The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)


The Leprosarium of Saint Thomas d’Aizier, the cementochronological proof of the medieval decline of Hansen disease in Europe?

JOËL P. BLONDIAUX1, THOMAS COLARD1,2, AMÉLIE DE BROUCKER1,2, CÉCILE NIEL4 and STEPHAN NAJI5.

1Laboratory of bio-archaeologgy, Centre d'Etudes Paléopathologiques du Nord, France, 2Forensic Institute (Taphonomy Unit), Univ. Lille Nord de France, 59000 Lille FRANCE, 3Forensic Institute (Taphonomy Unit), Univ. Lille Nord de France, Lille FRANCE, 4CNRS-CRAHAM-UMR6273, Centre Michel DE Bouard 14000 Caen FRA?CE, 5CNRS-PACEA-UMR, Bordeaux 1 University F-33000, FRANCE

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By counting cementum annulations to estimate individual age-at- death, paleodemographers have an incomparable tool to reconstruct demography of past populations. Until now, osteo-archaeological collections from medieval leprosaria have never been specifically studied in a paleodemographic perspective thus keeping in the dark crucial parameters for our understanding of the demo-dynamique of leprosy in Medieval Europe.

Our hypothesis is based on the comparison of adult median age-at-death and survival curves estimated using cementochronology on a pooled sample of sites (N = 20 ; AD 450-1600, N individuals = 1550). The possible bias of dental hygiene which might affect cementum has been simultaneously analyzed.

Among all the observed series, the survival curve from the leprosarium of Saint Thomas d’Aizier is the most statistically catastrophic. Dental health does not differ from other samples of various social statuses and is thus discarded as a bias.

The abnormal high mortality from all age group of the forced population of the Saint Thomas leprosarium unexplained by leprosy only, emphasizes the hypothesis of the influence of systematic isolation of contagious individuals (mainly from easily identifiable lepromatous signs) in an incarcerating environment rifed with malnutrition, abuses, promiscuity and tuberculosis, particularly at the end of the medieval period when this disease was rapidly disappearing.

Cementochronology should obviously be implemented on other similar sites in order to strengthen this hypothesis in addition to comparative isotopic analyses to better identify and estimate diet deficiencies.

Word Count = 232

Symposium cementochronology

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