Variation in health and socioeconomic status within the W. Montague Cobb skeletal collection: Degenerative joint disease, trauma and cause of death


  • R. Watkins

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 20016, USA
    • Department of Anthropology, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 20016, USA.
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  • Research completed with assistance from an American Association of University Women post-doctoral fellowship.


This paper examines health differences between two distinct samples within an African American skeletal population by investigating variation in osteoarthritis (OA) patterns, the presence of enthesopathies, fractures and cause of death. Surveys and statistical treatments tested the hypothesis that two samples within a population that have different socioeconomic contexts will present associated differences in health.

Binomial statistics were used to examine differences in OA patterns and prevalence within and between groups, and according to age and sex. These data were paired with information on the presence of enthesopathies at select muscle attachment and insertion sites to add another dimension to the assessment of mechanical strain. Finally causes of death, when available, were recorded to compare leading causes within and between samples, as well as with the larger population.

Data reveal significant differences in the prevalence of OA between groups. Significant differences also presented when comparing the prevalence of unilateral and bilateral affect. Although a number of differences in health status observed can be attributed to age, relationships between the presence of OA and enthesopathies in a portion of the sample indicates that degenerative change and hypertrophy in the samples reflect both systemic and non-systemic change. The presence and pattern of fractures and causes of death are also suggestive of differences in social context between the two samples. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.