Chapter 3. Epidemiological Approaches in Palaeopathology

  1. Ron Pinhasi PhD Lecturer in Prehistoric Archaeology member2 and
  2. Simon Mays PhD Human Skeletal Biologist Visiting Lecturer member Secretary3
  1. Ron Pinhasi PhD Lecturer in Prehistoric Archaeology member2 and
  2. Katy Turner PhD research associate1

Published Online: 27 DEC 2007

DOI: 10.1002/9780470724187.ch3

Advances in Human Palaeopathology

Advances in Human Palaeopathology

How to Cite

Pinhasi, R. and Turner, K. (2007) Epidemiological Approaches in Palaeopathology, in Advances in Human Palaeopathology (eds R. Pinhasi and S. Mays), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9780470724187.ch3

Editor Information

  1. 2

    Department of Archaeology, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

  2. 3

    English Heritage Centre for Archaeology, Fort Cumberland, Eastney, Portsmouth PO4 9LD, UK

Author Information

  1. 1

    Research Associate, Division of Epidemiology, Public Health and Primary Care, Imperial College, Praed Street, St Mary's Campus, London W2 1PG, UK

  2. 2

    Department of Archaeology, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 27 DEC 2007
  2. Published Print: 14 DEC 2007

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780470036020

Online ISBN: 9780470724187



  • palaeoepidemiology;
  • prevalence rate;
  • limitations;
  • case-control study


A major historical limitation in the field of palaeopathology has been its overemphasis on case studies of specific or non-specific conditions. This approach cannot provide epidemiological information about the prevalence of disease in relation to age, sex and other factors. Consequently, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to derive palaeoepidemiological information from the literature about a given disease that can be compared with data on both past and current medical epidemiological studies.

This chapter provides a critical overview of palaeoepidemiology. Following the Introduction, the main current research directions that involve the study of epidemiological aspects of past populations are outlined. The subsequent section then discusses the main epidemiological concepts that are of relevance to palaeopathologists and looks at some of the limitations that are associated with the application of these methods to palaeopathological investigations. The following section then focuses on methods for the calculation of prevalence rates in archaeological samples stratified by age and sex. The methodology incorporates the analysis of missing cases and the ways in which missing data affect the prevalence rates obtained. There then follows a section that focuses on the comparison of prevalence rates between populations by means of methods, such as the case-control study. The chapter ends with a discussion of possible future directions.