• BMD;
  • vertebral osteophytosis;
  • DXA;
  • archaeological bone;
  • bone loss


This study investigates the age- and sex-related patterns in vertebral bone mineral density (BMD) and the relationship between BMD and vertebral osteophytosis (VO), using a specialized peripheral densitometer in a skeletal sample excavated from the British medieval village Wharram Percy. A total of 58 individuals were divided by sex into three broad age categories (18–29, 30–49, 50+ years.). Each fourth intact vertebral centra was scored for VO and 5-mm thick coronal sections scanned in a specialized peripheral densitometer (GE Lunar Piximus DXA). Changes in BMD associated with age, sex, and VO severity were examined in the whole vertebral section, a strictly trabecular region, and a primarily cortical region of bone separately. Significant change in vertebral BMD was found to occur by middle age with little or no statistical change in BMD between middle and old age. Females appear to suffer greater bone loss at an earlier age with no change in BMD between middle and old age, whereas males show a more steady loss of BMD across the age groups. The bone mineral content and BMD of the cortical region is higher in individuals with pronounced/severe osteophytosis. The unusual age- and sex-related patterns of change in vertebral BMD at Wharram Percy are compared with the patterns of age-related change from recent longitudinal population-based studies. The results emphasize the different pattern of bone loss in young adulthood seen in trabecular regions of the skeleton and highlight the importance of consideration of degenerative joint disease in BMD studies. The influence of lifestyle factors on vertebral BMD in this medieval population is also discussed. Am J Phys Anthropol 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.