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Keywords:

  • linear enamel hypoplasia;
  • age-at-death;
  • social status;
  • medieval Canterbury

ABSTRACT

Linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH) is a macroscopically detectable band-like dental defect, which represents localized decrease in enamel thickness caused by some form of disruption to a child's health. Such dental deformations are utilized in osteoarchaeological research as permanent markers of childhood physiological stress and have been extensively studied in numerous ancient human populations. However, currently there is no such data for medieval populations from Canterbury, UK. Here, LEH is examined in the context of age-at-death in human burials from the medieval St. Gregory's Priory and adjacent cemetery (11th–16th centuries), Canterbury, UK. The cemetery and Priory burials represented lower (n = 30) and higher status (n = 19) social groups, respectively.

Linear enamel hypoplastic defects were counted on mandibular and maxillary anterior permanent teeth (n = 374). The age and sex of each skeleton were estimated using standard methods. Differences in LEH counts, age-at-death, and LEH formation ages were sought between the two social groups. Results indicate significantly greater frequencies of LEH in the Cemetery (mean = 17.6) compared to the Priory (mean = 7.9; t = −3.03, df = 46, p = 0.002). Adult age-at-death was also significantly lower in the Cemetery (mean = 39.8 years) compared to the Priory burials (mean = 44.1 years; t = 2.275, df = 47, p = 0.013). Hypoplasia formation ages differed significantly between the Priory (mean = 2.49 years) and Cemetery (mean = 3.22 years; t = 2.076; df = 47; p = 0.034) individuals.

Results indicate that childhood stress may reflect adult mortality in this sample, and that the wellbeing of individuals from diverse social backgrounds can be successfully assessed using LEH analyses. Results are discussed in terms of the multifactorial etiology of LEH, as well as weaning-related LEH formation. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.