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

Poorhouse Portrait: Analysis of the Burial Population in a New York Poorhouse and Tuberculosis Ward Cemetery


1Department of Anthropology, Binghamton University, 2Public Archaeology Facility, Binghamton University

Thursday 10:45-11:00, 200ABC Add to calendar

The former site of the Onondaga County Poorhouse in Onondaga County, NY, was excavated as part of a salvage project, revealing an extensive early 20th century cemetery. This paper examines results from the skeletal analysis of 71 discrete burials. Placing them in a regional context with poorhouses from the same historic time period sheds light on a people whose history is often neglected due to their position in life and the circumstances of their death and burial.

Nearly one-third of the burial population are sub-adults, and the large number of children under the age of five (n=15) is consistent with pre-industrial, urban populations with poor sanitation. Sex of adult individuals is heavily skewed towards males, with seven times as many males. These proportional values are consistent with contemporaneous poorhouse cemeteries from the region. 63% of individuals in the Onondaga County Poorhouse cemetery sample displayed some form of trauma or skeletal pathology, with differential diagnoses ranging from the very common osteoarthritis to the rarer Legg-Calve-Perthes disorder. Additionally, 56% exhibited one or more dental pathologies.

The comparison of trauma and pathology incidence among the burial population at the Onondaga County site with other poorhouse cemeteries from turn-of-the-century New York state contributes to the body of bioarchaeological data for evaluating health and mortality in a particular subset of individuals. This growing portrait of their lifeways, as reflected in the skeletal remains, describes a people facing the hardship of disease, nutritional deficiency, and personal injury in life, and anonymity in death.

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