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Keywords:

  • Paleopathology;
  • Monroe County;
  • New York;
  • Poorhouse

Abstract

A skeletal sample of 296 individuals from a 19th century American poorhouse cemetery is examined for the frequency and chronogical distribution of linear enamel hypoplasias on the mandibular canines and maxillary central incisors. Dental enamel hypoplasias may be considered to be indicators of increased exposure to health risk at the time of weaning. The purpose of this study is to examine childhood stress and provide a relative measure of that stress, as evidenced by hypoplasias, in a historic sample that represents an industrializing population.

The frequency of enamel hypoplasias per individual by tooth ranged from 70 to 73%, with a peak age at stress of 2.5 to 3 years for the maxillary central incisor and 3.5 to 4 years for the mandibular canine. There were no significant differences in the presence of hypoplasias between males and females.

The peak age at stress between 2.5 and 4 years in this 19th century sample transects the ranges reported for prehistoric populations (2–6 years) and for modern groups (0–3 years). These results indicate that the stress associated with weaning probably occurred earlier in incipient industrial societies than in prehistoric hunter/gatherers and agriculturalists, yet not as early as in modern industrial groups. The high level of childhood stress in this skeletal sample compared with that of other samples may indicate a change in health, at least among the lowest class, associated with the cultural transition from an agricultural to an industrial society.