Biological Anthropology at UGent
ArcheOs is the newly founded research laboratory for biological anthropology at Ghent University.
What is biological antropology?
Anthropology is the study of humans in comparative perspective – comparing societies and cultures, looking at change over time, and exploring human biological diversity. Biological anthropology takes this comparative approach to exploring human evolution and adaptation: comparisons between humans and other animals to understand human uniqueness and biological variation; comparisons across time to unravel the evolutionary history of hominins over the last 6–8 million years; investigating variation in human development and health, exploring the mechanisms that generate population differences today and in the past; and looking at individual behaviour in terms of evolution and adaptation and its underlying cognitive basis. Biological anthropology is unique in straddling both anthropology and the biological sciences more broadly.
So, biological anthropologists can be palaeontologists, geneticists, archaeologists, ecologists, physiologists, ethologists, epidemiologies, osteologists, among others! Most people do fieldwork which may involve studying ancient hominins, collecting skeletal data, observing non-human primate behaviour, or digging up archaeological sites.
Biological anthropology at UGent
The term physical anthropology (instead of biological anthropology) is used more frequently in Belgium but is used to mainly study human anatomy, genetics, physiology and osteology – it is the study of the physical human form. The term biological anthropology is broader and includes, next to the physical human form, the interaction between culture and biology.
At UGent, next to studies on human evolution, a good part of our research involves osteoarchaeology. This is a sub-discipline of biological anthropology and is the scientific study of human skeletons excavated from archaeological sites. It can tell us about the demography, health, lifeways, diet and physique of people in the past. It may also be able to shed light on genetic relationships and movement of people. Techniques used by human osteoarchaeologists range from visual examination, through measurement of bones and teeth, to chemical and physical analyses.
All archaeology students at UGent will receive lab-based training in the identification, recording and excavation of human remains. Besides physical anthropological reports on skeletal collections, the laboratory provides theoretical and practical education into human osteoarchaeology. Students can choose to extend their knowledge of human evolution and osteoarchaeology in an optional Masters course that will be offered from 2021-22.
The laboratory uses state of the art methods such as isotope and proteome analysis and ancient DNA in collaboration with UGent laboratories and external partners.
The Department of Archaeology is home to a state-of-the-art range of scientific research facilities that complement the activities of our research clusters. Our laboratory facilities are housed in the Rommelaere Campus and in associated departments in other faculties (E.g. Campus Sterre for geology; Campus Coupure for Chemistry) and sit at the heart of our teaching and research. Through extensive archaeological research collections and modern experimental equipment, we provide the ideal environment for the analysis of both organic and inorganic archaeological materials.