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Desert Diary


Many people think of archaeology in terms of arrowheads and potsherds; and, of course, those are part of archeology—but only part. The ultimate aim is to gain a true picture of how peoples of the past lived. Part of the picture concerns the interaction between the biological world and prehistoric human cultures. The critical approach is through the science of bioarchaeology, the science involved in the recovery, processing, and interpretation of biological materials associated with prehistoric and historic humans. Combine the disciplines of biology, paleontology, and archaeology, and you're on the way to becoming a bioarchaeologist.

Peoples of the past necessarily used plants and animals for food, construction, tools, clothing, ornamentation, and ceremonial purposes. Understanding what they used, how they obtained it, and how it was processed is vital if we're to understand them. Our desert climate is ideal for bioarchaeology, where dryness may preserve not only bones and teeth, but sometimes things like twine and sandals, items that rot away easily in wetter climes. Bioarchaeology: the science of making the dead come alive.

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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.