Biological anthropologists study biological evolution and variation. This may include the study primatology, hominines, medical anthropology, forensic anthropology, and bioarchaeology, the latter being focused on archaeological human remains, including palaeopathology or the study of ancient disease.
The British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) provides a forum for discussion and intellectual exchange for professionals and students in all areas of biological anthropology.
BABAO acts as an advocate to encourage discussion of new research discoveries at our conferences, disseminates this knowledge in our publications, provides guidance to biological anthropologists in the form of our Code of Ethics and Code of Practice, provides help to museum curators in the form of our “Guidance for Institutions Receiving Collections”, and where possible education to the general public on issues relating to biological anthropology.
We believe that it is vitally important that we improve our understanding of our species through the study of the remains of humans and their ancestors who lived in the past, in conjunction with the study of modern humans and closely related species of primates living around the world today. Such knowledge helps us to comprehend just what it is to be human.
We are fully committed to promoting the highest ethical standards in the treatment and care of human remains and do not condone actions or statements that violate these principles. Membership of the organisation is open to all who support these aims.
Produced in October 2018 by Charlotte Roberts (President 2018-20)
The annual BABAO conference at Cranfield University took place in September 2018 and this coincided with BABAO’s 20th anniversary. This gave us the opportunity to reflect on our origin and evolution.
This is a short description of BABAO’s history. The exercise to produce this history was quite challenging, even though I was there from the start! Many apologies if something or somebody vital to this history is missing. Some of the BABAO Trustees, as of September 2018, and a number of members provided help and images (Jelena Bekvalac, Megan Brickley, Jo Buckberry, Margaret Cox, Malin Holst, Tina Jakob, Chris Knüsel, Mary Lewis, Simon Mays, Piers Mitchell, Holger Schutkowski, Martin Smith, Nivien Speith, James Steele, and Sam Tipper).
BABAO’s Origin and Functioning
There was no organisation for UK practitioners before BABAO except for the Osteoarchaeological Research Group, and headed up by Sue Anderson (of Spoilheap Archaeology). ‘BABAO’s ‘birth’ can be linked to a conference in 1998 at Bournemouth University organized by Margaret Cox and Simon Mays. It was then agreed to initiate BABAO and the first official conference was in Birmingham in 1999, hosted by Megan Brickley. Megan also agreed to take the organization forward on Margaret’s suggestion. Megan became our first President and the committee was set up…..and the rest is history. Prior to BABAO’s formation, people who wanted to be associated with an organization joined the U.S. based Paleopathology Association and/or the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It should be noted that there are several people who have been instrumental in taking the organization forward, meaning stepping up to serve on the committee or Board of Trustees for a number of years. Particular mention should be made of Andrew Chamberlain (Non-executive member for 7 years), Tina Jakob (membership secretary for 4 years, general secretary for 1 year, & non-executive member for 4 years), Simon Mays (Professional Organization rep for 14 years), Jackie McKinley (Treasurer for 7 years & commercial archaeology rep for one year), Melissa Melikian (commercial archaeology rep for 5 years), Piers Mitchell (3 years as President, 3 years general secretary, & 1 year as a non-executive member), Holger Schutkowski (President for 4 years & general secretary for 3 years).
Key moments and developments in our history
Our 1st Committee, which from 2014 is called the Board of Trustees
- Megan Brickley · President
- Andrew Chamberlain, Margaret Cox, Simon Hillson, and Charlotte Roberts · Non-executive members
- Louise Humphrey · Museum Representative
- Chris Knüsel · Joint Publicity Secretary
- Mary Lewis · Joint Publicity Secretary and Annual Review Editor
- Simon Mays · Professional Organization Representative
- Jackie McKinley · Treasurer
- Linda O’Connell · Membership Secretary
- John Robb · Secretary
- Julie Roberts · Commercial Archaeology Representative
A Student Representative was added to the committee in 2009, and in 2017 Communications and Outreach Officers were created to replace one post that was developing into a huge job – something had to be done! In 2018, in response to GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), our Non-Executive Trustee Catriona McKenzie agreed to advise on and implement the regulation on behalf of BABAO.
In 2012 our Constitution was established, and we gained charity status in 2014 when the Committee became Trustees. More recently, in 2018 Lizzy Craig-Atkins (then Treasurer) established a subgroup of members to explore Equality, Diversity and Inclusion within BABAO and the disciplines we represent.
Our membership has grown considerably especially over the last 10 years. In the year 2000 we had just over 100 members, rising to 500 in 2013. In late 2018 we have maintained that number.
This perhaps reflects that many more people are working in the field and particularly in commercial archaeology, and since the early 1990s many one-year masters courses have been developed, especially focusing on archaeological human remains. Thus, there are many graduates and current students. We have different categories of membership (waged, unwaged, retired, student), and Qualifying Country Membership, and in 2018 we awarded the first Honorary Life Membership to Holger Schutkowski. An official Student Group was set up in 2008.
BABAO has been instrumental in developing guidance documents for our members, including the Ethics and Practice documents (led by Becky Redfern, along with Margaret Clegg, Myra Giesen, Louise Loe, and Charlotte Roberts), and Becky Redfern produced advice and guidance in Accessing Collections of Human Remains in the UK.
In 2001, we started to talk about having standards for recording human remains at the BABAO conference in Durham. This led to Megan Brickley leading a working party to the Mytton and Mermaid Hotel, Atcham, Shropshire in November 2001. In 2004 the Guidelines to the Standards for Recording Human Remains were published (edited by Megan Brickley and Jacqueline McKinley), and in 2017 the guidelines were updated by chapter authors and edited by Piers Mitchell and (again) Megan Brickley.
Our Annual Review has been produced every year since 2000, with various editors (Jo Appleby, Jo Buckberry, Margaret Clegg, Becky Gowland, Mary Lewis, Ronika Power, James Steele, and Sonia Zakrewski). BABAO’s conference proceedings were published from 2005 by Archaeopress (British Archaeological Reports) and then by Oxbow in the Trends in Biological Anthropology series (2015 and 2018). A Grey Literature Database is currently being developed alongside the Archaeology Data Service in York.
We have made statements on repatriation and reburial of human remains, and we are active in trying to stop sales of human remains on the internet. We are regularly consulted on issues relating to the disciplines we represent, for example by government bodies, Historic England, APABE (Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Burials in England), CIfA (The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists), and the Research Excellence Framework). BABAO also set up a webpage for members wishing to accession skeletal collections no longer wanted by particular institutions who want to de-accession any of their collections.
Sharon Clough (Commercial Representative until 2018) worked with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CiFA) to develop an accreditation process for our members, which came to fruition in 2017. A Special Interest Group was also set up within CIfA in 2018.
Academic and commercial archaeology grants started to be awarded in 2005, and Mentor and Service Awards were established in 2018, to be awarded in alternative years. The first Service Award was given to Megan Brickley.
We have held annual conferences in a variety of universities, and one museum, since 2000, and award the Jane Moore and Bill White student prizes each year. In 2016 we started to award student bursaries to help with costs, and in 2018 we subsidised conference registration fees for all members attending.
Our website is our major tool for advertising our organization. It was established in 1999 and redesigned in 2005, but of course has changed a lot over the last 10 years or so. The new website went live in early September 2023 and is still improving. Our public engagement/outreach activities started in 2013. They have also developed significantly over the last few years, particularly so since we created two posts in 2017 (Communications and Outreach Officers) instead of one, recognizing that one person could not keep the website up to date and do outreach too! In widening our reach beyond the London Anthropology Day, which we have attended for the past 5 years, our activities have included the British Science Festival, the Deer Shed Festival, and the York Festival of Ideas.