Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 April 2015
Human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts provide a rich and diverse record of past behavior, reflecting the wide array of circumstances – ecological, cultural, social, economic, and political – that put a society and its members at risk of injury and death, resulting from either accident or violence. Many injuries are not identifiable in human skeletons, especially those that are limited to soft tissues. Moreover, accidental death is virtually invisible in the archaeological record except under very special circumstances, such as in building collapse or natural disasters (Cicchitti, 1993; Deiss, 1989; Palkovich, 1980; Sakellarakis & Sapouna-Sakellaraki, 1991). Violent death is often invisible in the study of skeletal remains, except in instances when bone is directly damaged and shows no evidence of healing, such as by gunshot or a sharp-edged weapon.
Despite these limitations, osteological remains are a highly useful index for assessing outcomes relating to unintentional (accidental) and intentional, malevolent (violent) injury in a remarkable variety of contexts around the world (Arkush & Tung, 2013; Courville, 1962; Domett et al., 2011; Jimenez, 1994; Judd & Redfern, 2012; Knowles, 1983; Knüsel & Smith, 2014; Lambert, 2007, 2014; Lovell, 2008; Martin & Anderson, 2014; Martin & Frayer, 1997; Martin et al., 2012; Merbs, 1989a; Ortner, 2003; Robbins Schug et al., 2012; Roberts & Manchester, 2005; Schulting & Fibiger, 2012; Šlaus et al., 2012; Tung, 2012a, 2012b; Walker, 2001a; Webb, 1995). This applies especially because skeletal injuries provide a snapshot of a person’s lived experience at that particular moment when s/he sustained the injury, often resulting in death.