The past, present and future of skeletal analysis in palaeodemography: Skeletal analysis in palaeodemography

Clare McFadden

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    The study of past population dynamics is imperative to our understanding of demographic processes in the context of biology, evolution, environment and sociocultural factors. Retrospective consideration of a population's capacity to resist and adapt to change aims to contribute insights into our past, a point of comparison to the present and predictions for the future. If these aims are to be achieved, the accuracy and precision of palaeodemographic methods are of paramount importance. This article considers the emergence of skeletally based palaeodemographic methods, specifically life tables and demographic proxies, and early controversies and issues. It details the process of methodological development and refinement, and success in addressing many of the historical limitations. The contribution and potential of skeletally based methods are discussed and comparisons and contrasts made with alternative palaeodemographic approaches, and avenues for future research are proposed. Ultimately, it is concluded that skeletal analysis provides unique opportunities to investigate population dynamics with spatial specificity, examine individuals and groups within a population, and integrate demographic and pathological information to evaluate population health in the past. This article is part of the theme issue 'Cross-disciplinary approaches to prehistoric demography'.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20190709
    JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
    Issue number1816
    Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2021


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