Adult scurvy in skeletal remains of late 19th century mineworkers in Kimberley, South Africa

Authors

  • A. E. Van der Merwe,

    1. Department of Anatomy, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
    2. Department of Anatomy, Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands
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  • M. Steyn,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anatomy, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
    • Department of Anatomy, University of Pretoria, PO Box 2034, Pretoria 0001, Gauteng, South Africa.
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  • G. J. R. Maat

    1. Department of Anatomy, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
    2. Department of Anatomy, Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands
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Abstract

Throughout history, scurvy has been a well-known disease which develops due to restricted resources of fresh fruit and vegetables. The condition results from an extended limited intake of vitamin C. Although skeletal lesions associated with infantile scurvy have been well described by many authors, very little literature is available on adult scurvy and the resulting skeletal lesions. The purpose of this study was to investigate the skeletal remains of a 19th century mining population from Kimberley, South Africa, for any skeletal lesions that may be indicative of adult scurvy. Scurvy was well documented as being extremely prevalent in this population. The skeletal remains of 107 individuals, presumed to have died around 1898, were studied. The majority of these individuals were males between 19 and 45 years of age. It is likely that most individuals were migrant workers at the diamond mines. All bones were visually assessed for macroscopic indications of pathological bone alterations associated with healed scurvy. Bone samples were also taken from ambiguous lesions in order to perform histological investigations. Lesions indicative of possible healed adult scurvy were observed in 16 individuals. These lesions included bilateral ossified haematomas, osteoperiostitic bone changes and periodontal disease. Histological investigation confirmed the presence of ossified haematomas on the anterior tibiae of some individuals. Hospital records and historical documents describing the incidence of scurvy in the local hospitals and the daily diet of the black mine workers supported these findings. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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