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Keywords:

  • scurvy;
  • paleopathology;
  • porotic lesions;
  • historic cemetery;
  • Britain

Abstract

Recent investigations of human skeletal material from the historic St. Martin's cemetery, England, found a range of abnormal lesions in six infants that are almost certainly related to scurvy. Porous and proliferative bone lesions affecting the cranial bones and scapulae were found, and this paper presents images obtained using both macroscopic and scanning electron microscope examination of the lesions. Previous work on infantile scurvy (Ortner et al., 1997–2001) relied heavily on changes at the sphenoid, which is often missing in archaeological bone, so the identification of changes attributable to scurvy on other cranial bones and the scapulae is encouraging. The ability to recognize changes related to scurvy on a range of bones will ensure an enhanced potential for recognition of this disease in future research involving archaeological bone. Research on historical documents from Birmingham dating to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, combined with the probable cases of scurvy identified, supports the view that the paucity of cases of infantile scurvy from the archaeological record reflects a lack of understanding and recognition of bone manifestations, rather than a lack of occurrence in this period. Changes linked to scurvy were only found in infants from the poorer sections of the community from St. Martin's, and this is almost certainly linked to patterns of food consumption and may be related to shortages of potatoes, due to blight, experienced during this period. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.