A bioarchaeological approach to stress and health in medieval Denmark: dental enamel defects and adult health in two medieval Danish populations

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Gamble, Julia A.
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This research engages in a bioarchaeological analysis of two medieval Danish sites using combined microscopic and macroscopic methods in order to investigate three objectives. The first was to consider the relationship between childhood stress and adult health through the joint consideration of microscopic enamel defects and adult health indicators. Given the context of these populations over a period of history characterized by changing climate and socioeconomic conditions, punctuated by famine and plague, this research also sought to examine temporal patterns in health and stress. Given the increased urbanization over the medieval period, the final objective was to consider health patterns between rural and urban populations. The results showed that the number of stress events did have an impact on later life mortality, and that there was differential expression of this relationship between males and females and between surface and internal enamel defects. A statistically significant decrease in stature was apparent after 1350 A.D. as well as an insignificant increase in tuberculosis and treponema, but an insignificant increase in age at death over time. The inter-site comparison showed higher rates of infectious disease at the rural site of Sejet, with tuberculosis in particular being significantly higher in females at Sejet. Mean age at death was also significantly lower at Sejet for the study sample, but a consideration of the broader cemetery sample showed no significant site differences, suggesting that this might be a sampling phenomenon. These patterns likely reflect the complex nature of the rural and urban interaction during this period, but also emphasize the need for further sampling. This research points to the complex relationship between stress and health and outlines the importance of developing more comprehensive etiological models and operational definitions for identifying stress indicators in dental enamel.
bioarchaeology, Denmark, medieval, paleodontology, palaeopathology, osteology, archaeology, stress