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Keywords:

  • molecular signaling pathways;
  • epigenetics;
  • biological damage hypothesis;
  • microbiome;
  • disease prevalence

ABSTRACT

Over the last four decades, bioarchaeology has experienced significant technical growth and theoretical maturation. Early 21st century bioarchaeology may also be enhanced from a renewed engagement with the concept of biological stress. New insights on biological stress and disease can be gained from cross-disciplinary perspectives regarding human skeletal variation and disease. First, pathophysiologic and molecular signaling mechanisms can provide more precise understandings regarding formation of pathological phenotypes in bone. Using periosteal new bone formation as an example, various mechanisms and pathways are explored in which new bone can be formed under conditions of biological stress, particularly in bone microenvironments that involve inflammatory changes. Second, insights from human biology are examined regarding some epigenetic factors and disease etiology. While epigenetic effects on stress and disease outcomes appear profoundly influential, they are mostly invisible in skeletal tissue. However, some indirect and downstream effects, such as the developmental origins of adult health outcomes, may be partially observable in bioarchaeological data. Emerging perspectives from the human microbiome are also considered. Microbiomics involves a remarkable potential to understand ancient biology, disease, and stress. Third, tools from epidemiology are examined that may aid bioarchaeologists to better cope with some of the inherent limitations of skeletal samples to better measure and quantify the expressions of skeletal stress markers. Such cross-disciplinary synergisms hopefully will promote more complete understandings of health and stress in bioarchaeological science. Am J Phys Anthropol 155:294–308, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.