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Small beginnings, significant outcomes: A new life-course approach to understanding the impacts of social inequality on human health in ancient China

A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Academic background
Humanities, Sciences, Health Sciences
Host campus
Honours, PhD, Postdoctoral
Associate Professor Sian Halcrow, Dr Melanie Miller, Professor Kate Pechenkina, Associate Professor Dong Yu


Social inequality is the hallmark for state-level societies worldwide, which has significant repercussions for nearly half the world’s population who now live in poverty, affecting women and children most severely.

To understand health disparities today, we need to study how inequality developed and how it impacted people in the past. The fertile Yellow River valley, known as the “cradle of Chinese civilisation,” witnessed the development of one of the most durable states in the world. Recent research in this region has shown a deterioration in health and diet for women in the Bronze Age compared with the preceding Neolithic period. To fully understand this change, we will assess health and diet in large skeletal samples that cover socio-political development from the early agricultural societies to the stratified Han Dynasty.

Using new methods to uncover childhood gender and diet, we will develop an original model to explain the development of diet and health inequality over the life course during five millennia of profound social change. This research is the first New Zealand-run bioarchaeological project in China and will place us at the forefront of methodological and theoretical development in the field.


Sian Halrow
Tel   +64 27 279 5265