John Willman

Body modification practices in the Late Pleistocene

1:00pm - 2:00pm / Thursday 27th January 2022
Type: Seminar / Category: Research / Series: Evolutionary Archaeology Seminar Series
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Speaker: Dr John Willman
Affiliation: University of Coimbra, Portugal
Abstract: Bioarchaeological approaches to body modification in Pleistocene human remains can provide important insights into human social identities in the deep past. Intentional body modification—such as tooth ablation, facial piercing, and cranial modification—are increasingly augmenting data on individual and group level social identities of Pleistocene peoples that have until now been studied primarily through analyses of mortuary and material culture variability. Two recent case studies—Olduvai (Oldupai) Hominid 1 from Tanzania and Ohalo II H2 from Southwest Asia—highlight the importance of renewed investigations into intentional body modification in Late Pleistocene contexts. Oldupai Hominid 1 highlights the likely use of facial piercings—a form of body modification previously unknown in Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene contexts from East Africa. Likewise, the differential diagnosis of Ohalo II H2 antemortem tooth loss is suggestive of the intentional removal of a maxillary central incisor. Thus, Ohalo II H2 may represents the earliest case of intentional incisor ablation in Southwest Asia—a widespread cultural practice in Iberomaurusian and Natufian contexts. These studies highlight the potential of using embodied markers of human social identities to understand human population dynamics and lived experiences of Pleistocene peoples.

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