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Summary

There has been little attempt within archaeology to understand the social meanings specifically attached to old age, or the implications of the social construction of old age for the reconstruction of prehistoric social formations. This stems partly from the low social value placed upon the elderly in modern societies, which makes us tend to view them as irrelevant, and partly from the difficulty of accurately ageing the skeletons of older individuals, which can make them appear invisible in the archaeological record.

A case study from the Traisental of Lower Austria is used to illustrate how the changing meanings of old age are recoverable from archaeological cemetery assemblages. Analysis of material culture patterning is combined with assessment of different forms of bodily degeneration to identify changes over time in the way that old age was socially recognized and the possibility that different kinds of bodily infirmity had very different social implications.