The term bioarchaeology was first coined by British archaeologist Grahame Clark in 1972 as a reference to zooarchaeology, or the study of animal bones from archaeological sites. Redefined in 1977 by Jane Buikstra, bioarchaeology in the US now refers to the scientific study of human remains from archaeological sites, a discipline known in other countries as osteoarchaeology or palaeo-osteology. In England and other European countries, the term ‘bioarchaeology’ is borrowed to cover all biological remains from sites.
Bioarchaeology was largely born from the practices of New Archaeology, which developed in the US in the 1970s as a reaction to a mainly cultural-historical approach to understanding the past. Proponents of New Archaeology advocated using processual methods to test hypotheses about the interaction between culture and biology, or a biocultural approach. Some archaeologists advocate a more holistic approach to bioarchaeology that incorporates critical theory and is more relevant to modern descent populations.
If possible, human remains from archaeological sites are analyzed to determine sex, age, and health.