Stephanie Robinson

Stephanie Robinson

Stephanie Robinson (PhD Candidate)

The Bioarchaeology of Early Bronze Age Ireland: Health, Disease, and Trauma

Supervisor: Dr Barra Ó Donnabháin


Archaeological human remains provide a window into the past that can enhance our understanding of essential aspects of the lives of earlier peoples. The analysis of archaeological skeletal remains allows for understanding long-term patterns of human health through investigating the impact of significant cultural and economic changes. One such significant transition occurred in Ireland during the Early Bronze Age. Along with changes to settlement patterns and architecture, the Irish Early Bronze Age sees a diversification of burial traditions, with the most significant transformation being a renewed preference for ‘individualised’ formal burial compared to the collective burial of the Neolithic. Changes in burial practices have received extensive attention in archaeological literature, with many researchers proposing strong links between single burial and a move towards a more stratified society. While there has been extensive archaeological study of Early Bronze Age burials and cemeteries, there has not been a detailed study of the human remains uncovered from these graves. While simple descriptive osteological analysis of individuals is often given in recent excavation reports, a synthesis of the entire corpus of Early Bronze Age burials has never been undertaken.

The first project aim is to use bioarchaeological methodology to identify levels of health, disease, and trauma across Ireland during the Early Bronze Age in the inhumation burials dating from 2200/2100 to 1900/1850 BC. Specific pathological trends will be identified, providing a more focused understanding of behavioural changes. Trauma levels will also be investigated, providing insight into social stress during this period. Case studies will be undertaken on individuals with notable pathology and/or trauma.

The second project aim is to use comparative methodology to provide a greater understanding of how changes in the Early Bronze Age effected health, disease, and trauma. The primary objective in this aim is to undertake a temporal analysis. By comparing population health between the Neolithic, Early Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Early Medieval, this objective will investigate if levels of pathology and trauma changed in response to the transitions in the Bronze age. The second objective is to undertake a spatial analysis of pathology and trauma. The spatial analysis will identify if particular environments or regions had differing impact on pathology and trauma.

This is the first study to provide a holistic and synthesised population-wide study of the surviving unburnt skeletal material from the Early Bronze Age. It will also provide modern skeletal analysis on a significant number of individuals for the first time. Updated analysis on these individuals is important as only 228 of 777 reported inhumations have been curated. This work will provide a deeper understanding of the social, cultural, and economic changes that impacted and shaped the lives of many.

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