The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Osteoperiostitis sex differences in southern German medieval and postmedieval populations


Department of Anthropology, The Ohio State University

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In a wide range of settings, adult females display higher prevalence of osteoperiostitis than adult males, suggesting sex differences in the immune system. This study tests the hypothesis that females show lower frequencies of infectious disease when compared to males by examining the frequency and severity of osteoperiostitis in the tibia. Skeletal samples from five southern German sites were used, deriving from the medieval (ca. AD 900-1200) and postmedieval (ca. AD 1200-1800) periods. Tibiae were assessed for completeness and only bones with over 70% observable periosteal surface were included. Sex and level of osteoperiostitis were scored using methods listed in the Global History of Health Project codebook, available online. This research focuses on those tibiae with an osteoperiostitis score between four and six, where four indicates moderate modification of up to one-quarter of the periosteal surface, five indicates moderate to severe modification of over half the diaphysis, and six indicates osteomyelitis. Both right and left tibiae were examined and individual scores were assigned based on the highest score estimated for either bone.

Over one-quarter (n = 101) of the total sample could be assigned a sex and had at least one tibia complete enough to score. This resulted in 58 females and 43 males. 15.5% of females and 27.9% of males showed an osteoperiostitis score between four and six (χ2 = 2.302, p = 0.129). These findings are consistent with a range of other settings showing clear female/male differences in skeletal infection as it pertains to the lower limb.

This research was funded by the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, The Ohio State University Alumni Grant for Graduate Research, and Sigma Xi (the Scientific Research Society).

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