Award details

Taylor Smith

Department: Anthropology

Faculty supervisor: Dr. Helen Kurki


"The field of paleopathology, study of health and disease in the past, has its origins in Medicine, and continues some of the traditions of that field, such as the publication of case studies. Case studies outline a particular case of a disease, trauma, or anomaly in an individual, with little attention paid to what it means to the population. Yet, paleopathology has evolved since the mid 20th century into a discipline aligned with Bioarchaeology and taking a more holistic, population-focused perspective. Why then are paleopathological case studies still prevalent in the literature? What role do they serve? Are they a critically engaged component of the literature that serves to align diagnostic approaches in Medicine with Bioarchaeology’s focus on paleodemography and biocultural perpectives? This research will address these questions through a literature review of relevant paleopathological journals – such as The International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, and The International Journal of Paleopathology. I will examine the frequency of case studies in these journals through time and track when and in what contexts case studies are cited in other bioarchaeological studies. Given the similar origins of medical and paleopathological case studies I will compare their approaches, focusing on how diseases are diagnosed, and to what degree the biocultural perspective informs their interpretations. The goal of this research is to provide a critically reflective examination of the factors underlying the prevalence of the case study in paleopathology and how they have shaped and been shaped by the evolution of the discipline at the divergence from its medical origins."