|Professor Charlotte Roberts of Durham University gave us a superb overview of her specialism in Bioarchaeology. She has studied the archaeology of human remains for the past 35 years and was PhD supervisor to another of our speakers, Professor Janet Montgomery.
An adult human skeleton contains 206 bones while an infant whose bones have not yet fused, has 850. Our life leaves traces in our bones of diet and disease, of where we have lived, age, sex, height. Muscle attachments and wear and tear give clues about occupations. Anyone who saw Julian Richards' TV series "Meet the Ancestors" may remember Charlotte's fascinating explanations of evidence from the skeletons they examined.
Newer techniques are revealing even more detail such as the CT scans finding arterial plaques in Egyptian mummies, indicating heart disease. Isotope analysis tells us about diet and migration. Ancient DNA speaks of kinship, migration and disease. ADNA of pathogens in dental plaque identifies diseases such as TB, Leprosy, Malaria and eColi.
There were some surprises. Contrary to common belief, a survey of some 37,000 skeletons from the Mesolithic to Modern times, showed that average height in the UK has not changed dramatically through time.
Charlotte also raised the ethical issues around handling human remains and their subsequent storage. Should human remains be reburied? Is it OK to put skeletons on display? There was a lot to think about.
For those who would like to learn more, there is Charlott'e's book, "Human Remains in Archaeology" Published in 2018 and a Massive Open Online Course on FutureLearn about Scottish soldiers buried at Durham. The MOOC begins in October: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/battle-of-dunbar-1650