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Keywords:

  • femur;
  • paleopathology;
  • bone mineral density;
  • fractures;
  • dual X-ray absorptiometry

Abstract

Modern populations from Norway and England differ in their experience of osteoporosis, the former showing lower bone mineral density (BMD) and a higher fragility fracture rate. The aim of the present work was to investigate whether this was also the case during the Middle Ages. Age-dependent loss of BMD in the proximal femur was assessed using dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) in male and female adult skeletons from a cemetery in the medieval town of Trondheim, Norway. Fracture prevalence was also investigated. Results were compared with those previously reported for a skeletal series from Wharram Percy, a deserted medieval village in England. Results indicate that peak BMD and patterns of age-related loss of BMD in the Norwegian and the English group were similar. Among females, the prevalence of osteoporotic fractures was greater in the Norwegian than in the English population. The BMD results suggest that differences in BMD between English and Norwegians are of recent origin, although given the fairly modest sample sizes, further work is needed to confirm this. Reasons for the greater prevalence of osteoporotic fractures in women in the Norwegian skeletal series are unclear, but the colder climate and greater frequency of hard surfaces may have meant that falls were more frequent, and when they occurred, were more likely to result in fractures than in the rural English group. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.