CURRENT RESEARCH INTERESTS
The Skeletal Biology Laboratory (SBL) handles the gross examination and analysis of osteological samples (archaeological and modern human; and biomedical animal model specimens), the histological preparation of skeletal and/or dental tissues, and the microscopic analysis of these specimens. Preparation is also undertaken of specimens for radiography, computed tomography, chemical/isotopic analyses, and image analysis (quantitative histomorphometry and cross-sectional geometry). Archaeological, archival, historical, ethnographic, and contextual research is also integrated. Some of our current primary research interests are below.
A current focus of PI Agarwal's research and writing delves into the bioethics of bioarchaeological practice, scientific racism, and osteological conservation and collection.
This includes a current lab project on the history and ethics of "legacy" anatomical collection of human remains from southeast Asia (India), and survey of anatomical collections across the US.
image: Skeleton of Richard Helain, 1493. Wellcome Library, London
One key area of research continues to be the study of the role of sex and gender in understanding bone health, mechanics, and aging.
This relates more broadly to the study of social identity in the past. Gender, age, class, ethnic affiliation, and religion all represent forms of social identities; we seek to examine the intersectionality of multiple social variables. One of the key approaches we use to reconstruct social lives is the greater contextualization of archaeological skeletal remains, through the close consideration of archaeological, historical, and (archaeo)ethnographic sources of data along with skeletal analyses. In order to provide a model for investigations of human lifestyle factors on bone growth and aging, we have undertaken projects involving the study of degenerative age and sex-related changes in non-human primate (monkey) skeletal material, with collaborators at the Kyoto University Primate Research Centre in Inuyama, Japan and the Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC), and doctoral dissertation project (Lipps). We also continue the analysis of age- and sex-related patterns of bone strength, bone loss and fragility in archaeological samples from various region and time periods including Neolithic Turkey, the Jomon and Edo period in Japan, and historic samples from Britain, Italy, and the Netherlands and Portugal.
image: copyright Sabrina Agarwal, SEM trabecular bone (modern human)
THE ROLE OF SEX AND GENDER IN BONE HEALTH AND AGING
The second emphasis in the lab is a lifecourse approach to understand skeletal morphology, that recognizes the cumulative nature of biosocial influences over the lifetime as crucial to unraveling the social lives of past people.
Current research questions are centered on understanding the importance of the cumulative nature of key life history events (such as early growth, puberty, pregnancy and lactation, menopause and senescence) and their socio-cultural counterparts (childhood, adolescence, motherhood, and aging) on the human skeleton. Two of our current active projects Italy (from the archaeological sites Villamagna (with co-PIs Patrick Beauchesne, U Michigan, and Caroline Goodson, Cambridge U) and the Pieve di Pava (with collaborators from the University of Pisa), investigate the role of early growth and development on bone maintenance, mechanics and health. Both of these projects are collaborative with international/US colleagues, involving doctoral dissertation (Kinkopf) and undergraduate students. Another collaborative and dissertation project (Trombley) examines early developmental health outcomes in two medieval archaeological samples from the city of Santarém, Portugal in order to examine the intersection of early life experience with aspects of changing inequality, religious and and burial practice and health, and the collaborative project with the Pima County Corner and dissertation project (Diaz) on health, early life experience and violence in migrants along the US Border
image: copyright Sabrina Agarwal, linear enamel hypoplasia (medieval, Italy).
LIFECOURSE APPROACHES AND DEVELOPMENTAL PLASTICITY
A unifying interest has centered on re-conceptualization of theory, methods, and analysis in bioarchaeology.
This begins with our focus on the application of novel and multi-methods to examine and interpret archaeological bone (micro)morphology, bone chemistry, and biomechanical properties, married with the application of theoretical approaches that emphasize biosocial and complex analyses of bioarchaeological data. PI Agarwal's commitment to diversity in the field of bioarchaeology includes deliberate mentoring of graduate students, undergraduates, and junior colleagues that bring diverse experiences and positionalities on theoretical and methodological approaches. The goal is to support, uplift, and amplify the scholarship of researchers who are normally unrepresented (or do not conform to gender, racial, physical, or class-based expectations) and/or who have been traditionally marginalized, and move them to positions of knowledge producers in the field.
All our current projects and dissertation research seeks to involve collaborative and community engagement and attempts even in small ways to shape and change the field through incremental reflexive and multi-vocal practice.