Bioarchaeology and Skin: Framing the boundaries of practitioner and material
(University College Cork)
Paper short abstract:
The field of bioarchaeology is inherently a tactile discipline. Its analysis and encounter of material is principally produced through the embodied contact of investigator and skeletal remains. This paper explores this critical relationship between practitioner and their discipline in the scope of the digital age
Paper long abstract:
Focusing on the notion of skin as a tool in the field of bioarchaeology, this investigation probes the role of this bodily surface in interpreting the material foundation (i.e. human remains) of the humanities and social sciences. The entity of skin is a dynamic and fluctuating conduit in which we filter our worldly encounters. As such, it endows our experiences with the manifestation of meaning. Engaging within the framework of this session, it is put forth that the examination, analysis, and subsequent interpretation of human remains is firmly entrenched within the tactile sensation. Prompted by laboratory and fieldwork investigations, skin is used as a tool for the critical understanding of the past bodies through the medium of our present bodies. Through this bodily collaboration, we arrive at an area vibrant in potential discourse. The seminal role of a bioarchaeologist is to extend beyond the examination of skeletal remains to expose the archaeological surface and enlighten the public to a shared (past) human condition. Just as (bio)archaeology informs us through the transfer of knowledge through layered past experiences so is the surface and embedded meanings of flesh. The increased desire to record collections of skeletal remains in a digital, computerized form further remove this primary sensation of tactile contact and transformed the manner in which these collections are analyzed. By bringing attention to this influential relationship of the skin of the past and present human condition, a new understanding of association between world and mind is produced.
Surfaces: contesting boundaries between materials, mind and body