UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Worked to the bone : skeletal activity patterns and their implications for daily life practices during the Shang dynasty, China Osing, Natasha Kristine


Activity markers are often highly critiqued for their usage in bioarchaeological studies due to the multi-etiological nature of bone modifications. Simultaneously, other archaeological materials and methodology tend to overshadow bioarchaeological approaches, especially at Yinxu (modern-day Anyang, China), the last capital of the Shang dynasty (ca. 1200-1046 BC). More so, few bioarchaeological studies at Yinxu tend to focus solely on health-related issues among the commoner population. Despite their limitations, activity markers offer an avenue to expose activity patterns within the population that can lead to the understanding of labour organization and daily life practices. This study focuses on three types of activity markers, directional asymmetry, lower leg facets and imprints, and entheseal changes, to better understand how the body has adapted to the repetitive movements of the Shang to provide insight into their daily activities. The data for this project was collected in Anyang, China, from three collections: Xin’anzhuang, Dasikongcun and Xiaomintun, totalling 177 individuals. Each chapter within this dissertation focuses on specific activity markers and utilizes different methodologies. Three key findings were presented in this project. Firstly, directional asymmetry demonstrated that females tend to have larger left arms than their rights and vice versa for males. This stark difference was noticed across the landscape and was not neighbourhood-specific. Secondly, the facets and imprints study proved that Shang people utilized symmetrical squatting and kneeling positions consistently in their daily lives due to the appearance of multiple lower leg bony modifications. More so, it is impossible to differentiate between the two movements; therefore, discussing them in conjunction is necessary. Third, the entheseal change study revealed a statistically significant difference between the sexes and neighbourhoods, suggesting an activity-based organizational difference throughout the landscape that may likely be based on craft production. These findings demonstrate the need to incorporate bioarchaeological methodology in ancient studies, especially at Yinxu. Analysis from skeletal bodies can expose patterns of daily life unobtainable from other archaeological material alone. When utilized collectively with other sub-disciplinary methodologies, a more extensive understanding of the inner workings of Shang society can present itself.

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