Bioarchaeology is the framework which helps reconstruct past populations’ ways of life. The study of human skeletal remains is considered the foundation for viewing the impact that social and political changes had on the lives and health of past populations. At Tell Atchana, five fundamental methodologies are the basis for the research conducted on human skeletal remains: dental pathology, dental morphology, joint disease and trauma, ancient DNA, and isotopic analysis.
Dental pathology is the field of science that provides information concerning the effects of different modes of subsistence on diet and growth. A multi-disciplinary approach is used which includes the study of dental wear, dental caries, ante-mortem tooth loss, periodontal disease, and dental enamel hypoplasia, all of which are important sources of information pertaining to modes of subsistence. Diets high in carbohydrates, for example, affect the incidence and severity of dental caries, ante-mortem tooth loss, and periodontal disease. Dental caries and wear are strongly interlinked and are both affected by the composition of diet and the processing of food. Repeated episodes of ill health during childhood growth leave marks on tooth enamel, referred to as dental enamel hypoplasia. All of these methodologies are implemented here at Tell Atchana in order to observe possible differences between females and males and between different age groups in their access to dietary items and their social status.
Population movement and replacement can be addressed through diachronic analyses of inherited dental morphology, also known as dental nonmetric traits. Teeth are characterized by heritable dental morphological traits, which are passed between populations. Populations living in different geographical locations exhibit sets of dental traits which differentiate them from other regions. The accumulative frequencies of these dental morphological features help to determine the biological affinities of the populations which once inhabited Tell Atchana.
The application of paleopathology to the study of archaeological skeletal remains can help us draw inferences about the different levels of growth and development, along with joint diseases and trauma. The reduction in adult long bone length, for example, reflects stunted growth of an individual and provides information about nutritional levels in past societies. The distribution of pathological lesions within a population can provide some information about diet and health. Studies of joint diseases and trauma, such as the presence of osteoarthritis and bone fractures, respectively, are considered indicators of certain activities. Here at Tell Atchana, the results of our on-going studies have shown a higher than expected prevalence of cranial fractures, which has been interpreted as a sign of interpersonal violence.