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Marc Luy and Ursula Wittwer-Backofen (2005)

The Halley-Band for Paleodemographic Mortality Analysis*

In: Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Vol. 30, 2-3/2005, p. 219-244, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ISSN: 0340-2398

The paper suggests a computer aided procedure for the construction of Halley bands, which can be used for the mortality analysis of skeletal populations. It is based on demographic methods and takes into consideration the uncertainty regarding the estimated ages at death for each of the individual skeletons. The main difficulty connected with the mortality analysis of a prehistoric graveyard is the wide age range of the age estimates based on morphological ageing traits in the skeleton, whose amount for each of the skeletons within a population depends on the state of preservation and the applied methods for age estimation. The method developed here is an application of the Monte Carlo method, which extracts an exact age at death out of the given age range by a random generator for each skeleton as basic data for the construction of a life table. If this procedure is reproduced for a sufficient number of extractions, this results into a relatively narrow bundle of life tables, characterising the specific mortality pattern of the observed skeletal population and including the uncertainty of the individual age estimations. The borders of the Halley band can be defined by including the innermost 95 per cent of the life table distributions and therefore excludes unlikely age distributions. Model simulations and comparisons to the standard anthropological techniques for the construction of a life table show that the Halley band method provides robust and informative results for paleodemographic mortality analysis. However, the necessary application of the Halley method has major implications for the interpretation of mortality patterns of past populations and does not overcome the general problems of paleodemographic analysis.

* peer-reviewed article (original German title: Das Halley-Band für paleodemographische Mortalitätsanalysen)

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