Acta Anthropologica Sinica ›› 2021, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (02): 165-180.doi: 10.16359/j.1000-3193/AAS.2021.0016

• Invited Papers •     Next Articles

Progress and prospects on osteological study of ancient human remains in China

HE Jianing()   

  1. Center for the Study of Chinese Archaeology, Peking University, Beijing 100871
  • Received:2021-02-06 Revised:2021-03-04 Online:2021-04-15 Published:2021-04-13


The osteological study of ancient human remains is an important part of physical anthropology, which has a history of more than one hundred years in China. Significant advances have been made in the last decade. In this paper, the progress of osteological study of Holocene human remains in China is reviewed.
In the last ten years, the fields of research have expanded significantly, including population evolution history, paleopathology, skeletal abnormalities related to cultural customs, functional adaptation of long bones, paleodemography, body shape and size, climate adaptation, etc., and have accumulated many important physical data of ancient populations. The breadth and depth of the research have completely surpassed the situation that focused on ethnographic analysis in the last century.
In addition to traditional methods based on metric and non-metric traits of skull and teeth, evolutionary quantitative genetic method has been introduced into regional population history study. There are also microevolutionary analysis of craniofacial morphologies on large spatial and temporal scale. Geometric morphometrics has proved to be of great value in the study of population history. In the study of paleopathology, there are some regional comparative researches focus on stress conditions, dental diseases, trauma, etc. Particular attention has been paid to the impact of social, cultural, and subsistence background on the pattern of disease. Biomechanics and geometric morphometrics have been used to analyze the long bone function, which provides important information for the reconstruction of activity patterns of past humans. New methods such as digital photography, micro-CT and 3D laser scanning, geometric morphology and morphometric maps have played an important role in supporting these progresses.
Most studies highlight the significant advantages of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, which is also essential for the future study. However, there are still some fields to be explored in China, such as the osteological study of children, female and physical adaptation to the environment. Basic research of osteology also needs to be strengthened.

Key words: Human osteology, Morphology, Adaptation, Evolution

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