Despite our instinctive understanding of the importance of “identity,” archaeologists and bioarchaeologists continue to struggle to rigorously investigate this complex phenomenon. Here, we present a contextualized multiscalar bioarchaeological approach to studying identities in the past—individual and group, mutable and immutable—through the mortuary record. We argue that, while many scholars have moved beyond the single-focus study, archaeological individuals themselves are still neglected. A contextualized bioarchaeological approach brings together a variety of methods to investigate aspects of individual and group identities, provides a means of accessing biological facets of identity, and allows for more nuanced understanding of the complexities of social identities. We illustrate the utility of our model with a case study using archaeological, bioarchaeological, and biogeochemical data from northern Chile, stressing both the fixed and the dynamic aspects of different identities. We focus on the tumultuous transition between the Middle Horizon (AD 500–1100) and Late Intermediate Period (AD 1100–1400) in northern Chile’s San Pedro de Atacama oases and the neighboring upper Loa River Valley. Our research demonstrates a shift toward homogenizing representations of social identities as well as biological aspects of identities as societies began reformulating their social groups following the end of the complex and cosmopolitan Middle Horizon.
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