Bone changes in the human skull probably resulting from scurvy in infancy and childhood

Authors

  • Donald J. Ortner,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560, USA
    2. Department of Archaeological Sciences, The University of Bradford, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD7 1DP, UK
    • Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560, USA
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  • Mary Frances Ericksen

    1. Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, George Washington University Medical School, Washington, DC 20037, USA
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Abstract

Scurvy in children is poorly known in the palaeopathological literature despite biomedical references indicating that bone changes do occur in some cases and should be observable in human skeletal remains. Research on infants' and children's skulls in museum and anatomical collections in the USA and Europe reveals a complex of features on the external surface of the greater wing of the sphenoid and adjacent bone tissue that may be caused by scurvy. The lesions are bilateral and are characterized by porosity and, in some cases, hypertrophic bone formation. These abnormal bone changes are probably the result of a reaction to chronic haemorrhage in the deep vasculature associated with temporalis muscle function. While these lesions resemble those seen in anaemia and infection, their distinctive anatomical location and association with chewing should differentiate them, in most cases, from other disease conditions. These features are also associated with porous, hypertrophic lesions of the orbital roof and provide additional evidence that caution is needed in attributing porous lesions of the orbital roof solely to anaemia. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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