Bioarchaeology: The Bare Bones of Storytelling

By: Kayla Smith | Contributing Writer

On Friday, Jan. 24, the USA Archaeology Museum held a lecture on bioarchaeology presented by Dr. Katherine Miller-Wolf, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of West Florida. She presented three of her current projects on colonial Latin America as a part of a series organized by the Assistant Director of the USA Archaeology Museum, Candice Cravins. 

Dr. Miller-Wolf is a bioarcheologist. One of her projects has been going on for over 13 years. Dr. Miller-Wolf went over how she tracked migration patterns in Mayan societies in Honduras and used a method to identify any kinship between bodies buried together without damaging the remains.

“My definition [of bioarchaeology] is that we specialize in using bioarchaeology on human remains to understand cultural issues about the past,” Dr. Miller-Wolf answered when asked to define her occupation.

 Miller-Wolf explained how essential human remains are to understand the way people lived in these cities and how they died. When examining remains found in an attic in Belize, Miller-Wolf and her associates only had partial skeletons to rely on; however, they discovered that the remains belonged to slaves (mostly of Mayan and African descent) who had contracted a deadly disease like Yellow Fever or an influenza virus.

They were also able to narrow down the burial site down to two possible islands. All the information was stored within the bones left behind. Dr. Miller-Wolf stated she felt like she “has a moral obligation” to give these individuals back their stories; stories swept away by history.

Before Dr. Miller-Wolf’s presentation, Candice Cravins, the Assistant Director of the USA Archaeology Museum, spoke about the museum, and its mission. 

“The mission of the archeology museum is to provide space to engage the public and members of the University community on a wide array of archaeological topics,” Cravins stated.

 Dr, Miller-Wolf’s presentation was a part of a monthly lecture series produced by the USA Archaeology Museum. Cravins asks members of the anthropology community to present on their past projects, current excavations, or upcoming projects South Alabama’s community may be interested in. Cravins also mentioned that these lectures usually successful in regard to turn-out, having anywhere between 20 to 100 participants.

“It’s more of a service we’re doing,” Cravins said when asked what the museum gains from the monthly lectures. “We are here as a resource for the community.”