Integrating Archaeological Science at Multiple Scales, a talk by Jess Beck (Harvard Anthro)


Thursday, September 23, 2021, 12:00pm to 1:30pm


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As a bioarchaeologist studying human skeletal remains from European late prehistory, multiple strands of Dr.  Beck's research deal with the problem of integrating evidence from different domains of archaeological science: skeletal analyses of identity and lived experience, radiocarbon dating of mortuary deposits, isotopic assessments of diet and mobility, and GIS investigations of site distributions. In this talk, Dr. Beck discusses the challenges and potential of bringing together these and other forms of evidence to produce cohesive analyses of past lifeways, focusing on three different scales of analysis.

At the regional level, Dr. Beck describes her ongoing research on third millennium BCE Iberia, a period that witnessed the emergence of new forms of larger, more complex sites across the Peninsula. Here, comparing data from bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology provides insights into the social mechanisms used to either dampen or solidify emerging inequalities while illuminating the impressive array of organizational variability that characterized these new kinds of sites.

At the local level, Dr. Beck will discuss research in the Apuseni Mountain region of southwestern Transylvania, a project that brings together bioarchaeology, excavation, and survey to assess the intersection of identity and mortuary practice during the Bronze Age. This area is home to some of the richest deposits of copper and gold in Europe, resources that were traded widely across the continent and used to fuel the rise of elites in other regions. Little, however, is known about the mountain communities where these metals originated. Here, she will discuss how bioarchaeology, in concert with isotopic and genetic analyses of diet, regional affiliation, and mobility, clarifies relationships between upland and lowland communities in the ‘Golden Quadrangle.’

Finally, Dr. Beck will conclude her talk by narrowing focus to the disciplinary level, presenting the results from a recent study of prestige hierarchies in archaeological publishing that have significant implications for how the discipline positions itself relative to the sciences versus the humanities.


Jess Beck is the College Fellow in Archaeological Science. She received her PhD from the University of Michigan in 2016 and has held postdocs at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Cambridge. She is a bioarchaeologist focused on the prehistory of Transylvania and Iberia during the third millennium BCE.