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

Mortality of a Swiss urban population in the early 19th century


1Physical Anthropology, Institute of Forensic Medicine, Bern University, 2Physical Anthropology, Institute of Forensic Medicine, Bern University

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This study reconstructs the mortality of the city of Bern, Switzerland, between 1805 and 1815. It is a contribution to the research on demographics and public health of urban populations of preindustrial Europe. The key source is the Bernese Burial Register which contains various information of the deceased, like age, sex and the cause of death. It is one of the earliest compilations of data sets of individuals with this high degree of completeness and consistency.

On behalf of life tables, mortality rates of all ages and both sexes were calculated. The susceptibility of specific age groups to certain causes of death was determined. Special attention was given to the cause of death and mortality of newborn infants and birth giving women.

Death by metabolic disorders, illness of the respiratory system, and debilitation were the most prominent causes in Bern. The worst killers of infants were the cramps, a lethal disease with spasmodic convulsions. 5.3% of all births were stillborn. Maternal death in childbed was rarely registered in Bern and there is no specific increase of female probability of dying.

In comparison with Central European data, Bern’s mortality structure was typical for cities of the early 19th century. However, Bern’s infant and children mortality was especially low.

This research has an explicit interdisciplinary value for different scientific fields from both the humanities and natural sciences.

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