Accepted Paper:

Lives Not Written in Bones: Discussing Biographical Data From Identified Skeletal Collections.  


Francisca Alves Cardoso

Paper short abstract:

Identified Skeletal Collections (ISC) use biographical data as a proxy for an individual's life history, neglecting a persons' life beyond that record. This paper highlights the importance of an ethnographic approach to better understand the life of women classified as "domésticas" in Portuguese ISC

Paper long abstract:

Portuguese identified skeletal collections (ISC), i.e. the Lisbon Luis Lopes Collection and the Coimbra Identified Skeletal Collection, have long been used to test, and develop methods on the reconstruction of past health and behaviour since they contain biographical data from the death certificates associated with the skeletons, e.g. age at death, sex, occupation and cause of death are known . Known occupation has been significant in studies that use entheseal changes and osteoarthritis as indicators of activity related stress, in which skeletons are grouped according to "occupational categories", and inferences are drawn and used to interpret past behaviour. Amongst these we find discussion of the sexual division of labour. However, in these Portuguese collections biographical data classifies most women as "domésticas" (normally translated as housekeepers). This is an abstract term that provides no concrete data as to how classify women in relation to tasks performed, and life lived. Using an ethnographic approach of semi-structured and open interviews several women were interviewed. The interviews relied on questions related to health and occupational tasks, e.g. tasks performed, age at which work commenced, changing and seasonality of occupations, as well as descriptions of any hobbies. These data were used to flesh out the lives of women classified as "domésticas" in Portuguese society to better contextualize skeletal remains, and it highlights the important point that biographical data at death is not representative of a life history, and therefore should be use with caution.

Panel LD26
Identified skeletal collections: the testing ground of anthropology?