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Human bones and teeth are usually the only physical remains of the people who created the material culture that archaeologists are called upon to interpret. Once a grave is detected during an excavation, the soil that fills it is removed carefully until the skeleton is completely uncovered. Particular care is taken so that the bones remain in their original position. Once the skeleton has been photographed, planned and recorded, the bones are carefully removed from the soil. The remains of different skeletons are stored separately and the soil is sieved in order to collect any small bones and teeth, as well as small finds (such as beads) and animal bones which may have been placed near the body as funerary offerings.

Apart from information on the construction of the grave and the burial offerings, the discovery of a burial can also provide information about the occupant of the grave. This kind of information is accessible through the anthropological study of the skeleton, the next stage of the process. Human bones and teeth are a “database” of human activity, giving us information on aspects of an individual’s life for which, especially in the case of prehistoric societies, there are often no other sources. This kind of information can be summarized as follows:
Demographic information
The most important demographic information concerns the sex, and the age at death of the individuals. The basic diagnostic features for differentiating the biological sex of the skeletons of adults are found in the bones of the pelvis and the skull, while over the last decade the examination of the sex by means of DNA analysis has also been made possible, although the use of this latter method is still restricted. Age at death can be estimated with relative accuracy up to the age of 15 by observing dental development. The determination of the age of adults is less secure, and is usually estimated approximately by placing an individual in a ten-year age category.
Dietary habits
The study of the bones and teeth of a skeleton can uncover information about dietary habits. In a prehistoric settlement similar information can also be obtained through the study of animal bones, seeds, and the organic residues in pots. But in the case of human bones the dietary information can be correlated with specific population categories (age, sex, kinship) to provide valuable information concerning the existence of social differentiation.
Kinship ties
The existence of kinship ties within a group of graves, between two skeletons buried together or within the skeletal material as a whole can be determined by observing specific morphological skeletal traits that are hereditary, or by means of the analysis of the ancient DNA (aDNA).
Paleopathological information
Palaeopathology is the study of the diseases and injuries that can be observed in archaeological human skeletons, and is an inseparable part of the anthropological analysis. The palaeopathological study can give interesting information about the health levels, occupations, and way of life of the population, and about the physical environment this population inhabits.
Occupation model
By means of the study of joint lesions, but mainly through the study of indices of muscular wear, that is to say the partial ossification of tendons, we can obtain important indicators about the level of activity and the models of occupation of the individual or the population.
Burial Practices
Finally, the anthropological study of the skeletal material of a site gives valuable information about burial practices and the manipulation of the dead. For example, the systematic absence of specific bones shows that not all the bones were treated in the same way. On the other hand, the systematic absence of specific age or sex groups means that burial treatment was not the same for all social groups. In the case of cremated bones, the degree of burning is indicative of the cremation procedure.

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