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Keywords:

  • Poundbury Camp;
  • rickets;
  • scurvy;
  • rib fractures;
  • anemia;
  • urbanization

Abstract

The impact that “Romanization” and the development of urban centers had on the health of the Romano-British population is little understood. A re-examination of the skeletal remains of 364 nonadults from the civitas capital at Roman Dorchester (Durnovaria) in Dorset was carried out to measure the health of the children living in this small urban area. The cemetery population was divided into two groups; the first buried their dead organized within an east–west alignment with possible Christian-style graves, and the second with more varied “pagan” graves, aligned north–south. A higher prevalence of malnutrition and trauma was evident in the children from Dorchester than in any other published Romano-British group, with levels similar to those seen in postmedieval industrial communities. Cribra orbitalia was present in 38.5% of the children, with rickets and/or scurvy at 11.2%. Twelve children displayed fractures of the ribs, with 50% of cases associated with rickets and/or scurvy, suggesting that rib fractures should be considered during the diagnosis of these conditions. The high prevalence of anemia, rickets, and scurvy in the Poundbury children, and especially the infants, indicates that this community may have adopted child-rearing practices that involved fasting the newborn, a poor quality weaning diet, and swaddling, leading to general malnutrition and inadequate exposure to sunlight. The Pagan group showed no evidence of scurvy or rib fractures, indicating difference in religious and child-rearing practices but that both burial groups were equally susceptible to rickets and anemia suggests a shared poor standard of living in this urban environment. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.