Beyond the Biocultural Approach: A Quantitative Assessment of the Use of Theory in Bioarchaeological Literature from 2007 to 2018

Colleen M. Cheverko, Kathryn E. Marklein, Melissa A. Clark, Rebecca C. Mayus, Sara A. McGuire, Evonne Turner-Byfield, Madelyn K. Green, Nicole M. Weiss, Emma M. Lagan, Mark Hubbe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


A primary goal of bioarchaeology is to reconstruct the biocultural context of past societies, which is frequently achieved by incorporating interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks to help contextualize the skeletal record. This article reviews explicit uses of theory in 1,593 articles published in 12 English-language peer-reviewed journals between 2007 and 2018 to explore how bioarchaeologists have recently engaged with various theoretical frameworks. This review generated quantitative data to assess the representation and maintenance of 10 relevant interdisciplinary and widely adopted theoretical frameworks. To discuss general trends in the discipline, the use of each theoretical framework was compared by year of publication, journal, and type of data, study, and methodology. Of the articles examined, 23.7% incorporated at least one framework considered in this review, but there is considerable variation among the different frameworks. Studies that explicitly describe a biocultural approach incorporated external theoretical frameworks more often (p < 0.001) than those that do not. Type of publication (p < 0.001) and journal (p < 0.001) were associated with the frequency of adoption of these frameworks, but methodology (p = 0.141) and data type (p = 0.404) did not show any association with theory adoption. Only two frameworks, life-course approaches (p = 0.006) and demography (p = 0.026), increased in frequency over time. The results highlight the importance of incorporating meaningful theoretical frameworks in bioarchaeology alongside the challenges faced by the discipline moving forward. Our review demonstrates that bioarchaeology has benefited from multidisciplinary theoretical approaches, representing a starting point to discuss where further developments are necessary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-56
Number of pages20
JournalBioarchaeology International
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the University of California Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2020 University of Florida Press.


  • bioarchaeology
  • research trends
  • theory in biological anthropology


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