Living and Dying in Mountain Landscapes: An Introduction

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Bioarchaeology International

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In this introduction to the thematic issue Living and Dying in Mountain Landscapes, we develop an analytical framework for the bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology of highland landscapes. We highlight new theoretical, methodological, and comparative contributions to the anthropological study of upland spaces. Theoretical contributions include examining identity, connectivity, and adaptation from an explicitly biocultural perspective. By bridging the biological anthropological focus on the somatic with an archaeological focus on the long term, bioarchaeology allows for the development of an embodied understanding of “marginal” highland environments, investigating how such landscapes shape and are shaped by human action over time. Recent advances in bioarchaeological methods, including isotopic analyses of mobility and diet and ancient DNA studies of kinship and relatedness, are combined with traditional osteological examinations of age, sex, ancestry, and disease to reconstruct the lifeways of mountain communities. These methodological advances take advantage of the topographical, geological, and ecological diversity of mountain landscapes. Finally, a comparative bioarchaeology of upland and lowland communities across space and time provides a deeper understanding of highland adaptations and identities. The papers share a number of unifying themes, including the impact of mountain landscapes on channeling resource control, creating or mediating diverse identities, and the importance of interdisciplinary investigations for developing an understanding of the relationship between people and place. As this issue demonstrates, the study of human remains must be situated within a holistic bioarchaeological approach to life and death in order to understand the dynamic relationships between people and the highland environments they occupy.

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