Life stresses of slavery

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Abstract

Skeletal evidence exists for life stresses of 120 Black individuals from 25 sites in Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Periods for statistical comparison are eighteenth century, 1690–1770; Catoctin Furnace, Maryland industrial slaves, 1790–ca.1820; 1800–ca.1860, nineteenth century; and a twentieth-century Black sample compiled from forensic (accidental deaths) cases. From these archaeological sources, skeletal age at death shifts from 36 years, female, and 30 years, male in eighteenth century (N=29) to 34.8, female, and 36.3, male in nineteenth century (N=56). Catoctin Furnace slaves' longevity may reflect special conditions for skilled males (34.6 years, female; 41.2 years, male (N=16). Nutritional stresses are indicated by dental lesions, hypoplasias, stature, and skull base height and pelvic brim index. Occupational stress occurs in some adolescents and in many adults as exaggerated development of lifting muscles (deltoid and pectoral crests) and early vertebral and shoulder breakdown. Lead content of bone may reflect site of occupation. The most common pathology is anemia or sicklemia; parietal depressions and ulna fractures (“parry”) indicate violence-related trauma.

Ancillary