Alexandra Livarda, Richard Madgwick, and Santiago Riera Mora (eds)
Oxbow Books, £48
This volume derives from papers and contributions to a session of the same title at the European Association of Archaeologists conference that took place in Istanbul in 2014. Several books exist with a similar focus, but this one is noteworthy in that it showcases bioarchaeological research that does not relate directly to human remains.
Instead, it purposefully covers many areas of the subdiscipline that do not often get much attention, including archaeomalacology (the study of mollusc remains), palynology (the study of pollen and other spores), and soil micromorphology. Zooarchaeology, in particular, is well represented with examinations of not only the use of meat in feasting rituals, but also the importance of animals in burial rituals and other religious practices.
This is a particularly bold move considering the subject at hand – ritual and religion – which would appear to be inextricably linked with the human body. But, by focusing instead on other ways in which questions of ritual and religion can be answered, the authors are able to provide a new and insightful perspective – and demonstrate their ability to shed light on burial rituals for which the actual remains are unable to provide much information.
Through 14 chapters, the volume covers a range of geographical areas and time periods, taking the reader on a whirlwind tour: from examining the purposeful interment of animals during the Iron Age in Wessex, to the identification of the species of plants used during Roman burial rituals in south-east Italy, to the consideration of the types of food and votive offerings made at the Sanctuary of Apollo in ancient Greece. While this broad scope of subjects means that the book cannot provide in-depth coverage of any one type of methodology or time period, that is not this volume’s main contribution.
Through its breadth of data, the reader is able to appreciate just how much bioarchaeology – all the many subdisciplines of it – can contribute to our study of the past. As the editors make clear in the introduction, this is intentional, as they hope that ‘it might act as a springboard for more interdisciplinary studies in the future.’
This review appeared in CA 345.