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

A macroscopic analysis of infantile scurvy from Zape, Mexico (AD 600-1430)


Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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The examination of scurvy by paleopathologists has provided increasingly innovative diagnostic methods for identifying and assessing the impact of this metabolic disorder in past populations (e.g. Schultz 2001; Brickley & Ives 2008). Recent work on the macroscopic analysis of scurvy in non-adult skeletal remains suggests that diagnostic criteria for identifying scurvy in immature individuals may be different from those applied to adult remains (Brown & Ortner 2011). Additionally, this same study argued that lesions on the pelvis suggest severe manifestations of the disease.

Data are reported for the mummified and/or skeletonized remains of 11 infants from Zape, Mexico. Given the unique context of these interments (burial complete with shrouds, pillows, grave goods and clay architecture), it is likely that these infants were buried in a ritual manner and therefore the sample of infants may not reflect typical patterns of infant health. Although the sample size is small, 5 (45%) of the infants show lesions suggestive of scurvy. The patterning of periosteal lesions is described in detail, with an emphasis on examples from two of the infants who exhibit widespread lesions, both consistent with severe manifestations of the condition. Comparisons to clinical data demonstrate that lesions present on the mandibles, crania, scapulae and pelvic bones of these two individuals are consistent with micro-hemorrhaging near muscle attachment sites (e.g. Larralde et al. 2007). Overall, these data support an emerging interpretation of lesion patterns indicative of infantile scurvy and suggest that disease severity may in fact be reflected in lesion distribution and intensity.

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