Paleodemography: From archaeology and skeletal age estimation to life in the past

Jesper Lier Boldsen, George R Milner*, Stephen D. Ousley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Much of paleodemography, an interdisciplinary field with strong ties to archaeology, among other disciplines, is oriented toward clarifying the life experiences of past people and why they changed over time. We focus on how human skeletons contribute to our understanding of preindustrial demographic regimes, including when changes took place that led to the world as we know it today. Problems with existing paleodemographic practices are highlighted, as are promising directions for future work. The latter requires both better age estimates and innovative methods to handle data appropriately. Age-at-death estimates for adult skeletons are a particular problem, especially for adults over 50 years that undoubtedly are mistakenly underrepresented in published studies of archaeological skeletons. Better age estimates for the entirety of the lifespan are essential to generate realistic distributions of age at death. There are currently encouraging signs that after about a half-century of intensive, and sometimes contentious, research, paleodemography is poised to contribute much to understandings of evolutionary processes, the structure of past populations, and human-disease interaction, among other topics.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe American Journal of Biological Anthropology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17. Dec 2021


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