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Leiden workshop leads to special issue Journal of Osteoarchaeology

In 2021 the Leiden Osteoarchaeology Lab hosted an international workshop on methods to study past physical activity. It aimed to tackle a niche topic with the field: namely the method of studying muscle attachments to bone. Dr Sarah Schrader, one of the organisers of the workshop: ‘You can quantify how big these attachments were and thus determine how active the individual was. At least you can determine the body builders from the couch potatoes.’

Pros and cons

The main issue with the study of these attachments, however, is that each researcher has a different statistical method. ‘In the 2021 workshop, we focused on the pros and cons of the different methods. Present were some 40 people in person, and some 300 online. It was really well attended and received.’

Several samples of gluteus maximus muscle attachments

Journal of Osteoarchaeology

Shortly after the workshop, Schrader was contacted by the international Journal of Osteoarchaeology. ‘They were interested in publishing a special issue on this topic. And indeed, most of the people who did a talk in the workshop have published a paper in it. Together with PhD candidate Jared Carballo Pérez, I edited the special. It was a long road of receiving all the articles, finding anonymous reviewers, etc. But is has been published now!’

Using statistics in osteoarchaeology

The special edition consists of eight articles, of which four in Open Access, on the topic of studying physical activity in past populations. ‘Nothing like this has ever been done before. This is brand new work.’ Schrader emphasises the importance of getting statisticians on board. ‘There is no right answer in these methods, but you need to know what type of data you are working with and what your questions are, to know what solution is best for you.’ Each article takes on a different type of statistical test, discussing the reasons for this method as well as the advantages and disadvantages. The aim is to give insights in the use of statistics in the osteoarchaeological field.

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