Jess Beck

Jess Beck

Jess Beck

Research and Teaching Interests

Bioarchaeology, European prehistory, social inequality, isotopic approaches to diet and mobility.

I'm a bioarchaeologist and human osteologist, which means that I study human skeletal remains from archaeological sites to answer questions about what people’s lives were like in the past. I received my PhD in Anthropology from the University of Michigan in 2016, and I spent the 2016–2017 academic year as a visiting scholar at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Comparative Archaeology. From 2017–2019 I was a Marie Skłodowska-Curie European Fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, as well as a postdoctoral by-fellow at Churchill College. I am currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department at Vassar College.

Human bones encode a wealth of information about prehistoric individuals and communities. They contain tell-tale signatures that allow us to reconstruct patterns of diet, disease, nutritional stress, and mobility. Comparing skeletal estimations of age and sex to mortuary treatment also tells us about how social identities were conceived and performed, and an archaeological perspective allows us to examine how these dynamics changed over time.

My research focuses on the Late Prehistoric period in Europe, a time of significant cultural change. During the second and third millennium, people began to farm more intensively, trade with other communities over vast distances, and settle down in larger villages and settlements. This lifestyle brought with it difficult new social demands like navigating complex interpersonal relationships, establishing property ownership, and organizing labor. These same demands are faced by most contemporary societies, which is why it is important to understand how such social structures first arose. To that end, I examine how mortuary practices shape and were shaped by agricultural intensification, population aggregation and political centralization, in order to delineate the social strategies humans use to mitigate the biological and social stresses associated with living in early complex societies.

Jess Beck's CV (June 2021)

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