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Keywords:

  • endochondral bone growth;
  • industrialisation;
  • urbanization;
  • England;
  • 19th century

Abstract

The rapid urbanization of the Industrial Revolution in 18th–19th century England presented new health challenges. Our aim is to investigate using English skeletal remains whether the living conditions for an urban working class group in the Industrial Revolution negatively impacted upon their skeletal growth compared with a population from a rural agrarian parish. The Industrial Revolution skeletal material is from St Martin's Churchyard, Birmingham (SMB), West Midlands. It dates primarily from the first half of the nineteenth century when Birmingham was a major manufacturing center. The rural group is from Wharram Percy (WP), North Yorkshire, and dates from 10th–19th century AD. The methodology involves plotting diaphyseal bone lengths versus dental age for subadults. No overall difference was found between the two populations in bone length-for-age among the 2- to 18-year cohort. However the younger parts of the SMB cohort were smaller than at WP; the opposite was true of the older parts of the cohort. Growth rate, as inferred from crosssectional data, appeared greater at SMB than at WP. The only result consistent with expectations is the larger bone dimensions in young children from WP, but this likely reflects prolonged breastfeeding at WP not differences in urban and rural environments. That the deleterious health effects that we know accompanied the major transition in human society from a rural agrarian to an urban industrialized living environment should be little manifest in skeletal endochondral growth data is discouraging for those who would use such methodology to monitor health in earlier populations. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.