The Odd, the Unusual, and the Strange: Human Deviant Burials and their Cultural Contexts

Organizers: A. Scott (University of Manitoba), T. Betsinger (SUNY College at Oneonta), A. Tsaliki (University of Athens)

Deviant burials provide an opportunity to gain invaluable insight to cultural constructions of outsiders, non-conformers, or “others” of different kinds. Sometimes, based on religious beliefs or other social factors, individuals who were viewed in life or death as extraordinary, separate from or outside of the social group were given unique burials, reflecting the deceased’s otherness or special status. These burials are identified in the archaeological record by evidence of different or unusual burial rites to those common in the given social group, segregated inhumations/cremations, unexpected burial accompaniments, or alterations to the corpse. Evidence of deviant or non-normative burials has been documented in a variety of geographic locations and temporal periods, which will be reflected in this session. The allure of deviant burials and their larger social meaning is tied to our archaeological understanding of how the living choose/feel obligated to bury the dead and the social values imprinted on these specific burials. While non-normative burials are primarily focused on specific individuals within a community, the social values that help construct deviant status after death is arguably reflective of larger social norms and beliefs. From this then, deviant burials provide a unique opportunity to: 1) explore the specific burial context of certain individuals within a community and 2) highlight the social values or social constructions of identity after death through various mortuary treatments.

Highlighting deviant/non-normative burials in a symposium format would provide a unique opportunity to explore these specific case studies and the overarching themes visible in these burials across different geographic and temporal landscapes. These burials are unique in nature based on their ‘deviant’ designation, but an understanding of the common elements that unite these various burials can provide a better understanding of why these burials occur, how specific individuals were targeted within their communities, changing cultural beliefs and norms, and what these burials may reflect about the larger population.

Physical Anthropology of Food Security

Organizers: T. Galloway (University of Manitoba)

There are important biological and cultural distinctions between human and non-human primates, however we share one very important biological imperative: we all must eat, usually every day. The drive to do so is an important driver of primate behaviour and social organization and a fundamental, perhaps the fundamental way, in which primates interact with their environment.

“Food security” can be defined most broadly as access to food. While this concept is currently “in vogue” among researchers working in public health, it is less often used in physical anthropology to describe differential access to resources in past or present populations or among non-human primates.

The extent to which a population or community is “food secure” depends on numerous factors and can be measured through a variety of means. Factors constraining access to nutrient resources are often similar across communities: population expansion, environmental degradation, socioeconomic status and, increasingly, climate change.

This symposium presents research from physical anthropology which examines food security in human and non-human primate populations, past and present, and explores the processes influencing access to food.

Canadian Contributions to Biorchaeology in Honour of Susan Pfeiffer 

Organizers: G. Dewar (University of Toronto Scarborough)

Susan Pfeiffer’s research in the field of biological anthropology has made significant contributions to our understanding of past human behaviour. Throughout her career as both a professor and administrator, she has devoted herself to high quality teaching and community involvement. Through the study of dental and skeletal materials, Susan and her colleagues have expanded our understanding of health, diet, and behaviour among the past populations of North America and southern Africa. Susan also worked to develop the historic Repatriation Memorandum of Understanding with the Huron-Wendat Nation.

This symposium will briefly cover the many research programs that Susan has been actively involved with over the past thirty years, as well as research programs that Susan’s students have contributed to in the United States, Russia, and the Caribbean. The session will conclude with a question-and-answer period with Susan as the discussant.

With over 60 published articles, 20 book chapters, and 5 books to her credit, Susan has established herself as a leading contributor to the fields of human skeletal biology, bone and dental tissue histology, and the origins of modern humans. We are honoured to recognize Susan’s past and continuing contributions to the field of bioarchaeology at the 2013 CAPA conference, hosted by the University of Toronto.



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