Brief Communication: A likely case of scurvy in a rural Early Classic Maya burial from Actun Uayazba Kab, Belize

Authors

  • Gabriel Wrobel

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, MI
    • Correspondence to: Gabriel Wrobel, Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, 655 Auditorium Drive, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA. E-mail: wrobelg@msu.edu

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ABSTRACT

A Maya burial of a late adolescent (Burial 98-3) found in the rockshelter entrance of Actun Uayazba Kab (AUK), Belize, displays a combination of lesions that is consistent with scurvy. Signs include large, active lesions on the posterior surfaces of maxilla; relatively mild porotic hyperostosis along the midline of the skull on the parietals and occipital; cribra orbitalia; potential pinprick lesions on the greater wings of sphenoid and temporal; reactive lesions on the palate, temporal lines of frontal and parietals, and external and internal surfaces of zygomatics; small lesions on the popliteal surfaces of both femora; and periodontal disease. Identification of scurvy at AUK potentially informs the analysis of other primary burials and scattered bone found there and at other nearby sites, which often reveal evidence of nonspecific lesions that are usually attributed to anemia and infection, but that are also consistent with scurvy. The social and ecological context of this Protoclassic (0–AD 300) individual, who lived in a rural agricultural community with no evidence of complex social hierarchy, contrasts with typical discussions of disease among the Maya, which tend to focus on the degrading effects of overcrowding and resource deficiencies. While scurvy has been largely overlooked in the Maya area, this study supports earlier arguments for its presence that were based largely on clinical and ethnographic analogies and suggests the need to incorporate scurvy into broader synergistic models of ancient health. Am J Phys Anthropol 155:476–481, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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