Cribra orbitalia, a possible sign of anemia in early historic native populations of the British Columbia coast



Excavated and museum skeletons of the postcontact period revealed cribra orbitalia in four native ethnolinguistic divisions of the British Columbia coast, Haida, Kwakiutl, Nootka, and Coast Salish. Affected skulls were distributed among 25 of 35 localities, indicating widespread occurrence in a mainly heterogeneous population. Manifestations were similar to porotic hyperostosis, and additional lesions in the sample tend to support the concept that cribra orbitalia is related to anemia. Both inherited and acquired disorders may have been involved in the etiology. A uniquely high incidence of 52.9% occurred in immature of the Haida, a relatively homogeneous population. However, marked variability in expression by age group and by sex in the total sample is suggestive of iron-deficiency anemia. The data and historical information parallel modern expectations of susceptibility. Among 454 skulls, cribra orbitalia occurred in 32.7% of growing children and adolescents, 19% of infants and toddlers, 13.3% of adult females, and 4.8% of adult males. Postcontact disruptions and disease may have figured in promoting iron-deficiency anemia, but noted precontact occurrences may also have been due to the disorder.