Patricia Baker

American archaeologist and classical scholar

Patricia Anne Baker (born 1967) is an American archaeologist and department head of the British University of Kent's Department of Classical & Archaeological Studies. In 2006 she was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.


  • How were the philosophies of medical treatment and social rules regarding the ill manifested in the building design of medieval Islamic hospitals (bimaristans or maristans)? This question does not simply instigate consideration into how Islamic hospitals were constructed, but seeks to explore what social rules and understandings of diseases, the ill and treatment can be detected from the buildings themselves by examining them within their environmental, social and philosophical context. The scholarly focus on the architecture and archaeology of hospitals from this era has concentrated on describing architectural details, which are frequently devoid of interpretations related to concepts of healing, beliefs about the body, illness and hygiene prevalent at the time of their construction and use. Yet, it has been shown in more general archaeological and anthropological studies of space that people's relationships to structures are imbued with cultural rules regarding their use, design and flow of movement.

The Archaeology of Medicine in the Greco-Roman World (2013)



  • Roman doctors did not have the same perception of germs as that in the modern West, and there is no recorded evidence of them having purposely sterilized their medical instruments. Medical historians and anthropologists have shown that there are differences in the way that medical objects have been handled in other periods and places that do not conform to modern concepts of hygiene. For example, it may be more important to bless a surgical instrument rather than clean it in order for it to be considered effective. The Roman writer Lucian also gives us the impression that some doctors did not clean or care for their tools as we might expect, when he says that he would rather have a doctor with a rusty knife than a charlatan with a gold one (Adversus Indoctum 29). Thus, archaeologists are warned that they should take care not to apply their own common-sense perceptions onto past activities.
  • Although the term 'prehistory' simply indicates a period without evidence for written documents, a hierarchy was created when the subject of archaeology was in its developmental stages in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During this period, societies with writing were deemed to have more scholarly importance and relevance than those without a written language (Schnapp 1996). In certain respects, this division is still maintained, though there is, it is hoped, a growing awareness that societies without writing in both the past and present have rich traditions of oral histories and complex social rules. Groups without a written record should not be thought of as primitive and, therefore, less worthy of investigation (Hodder 2007: 8).

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