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

Ad sanctos burial and markers of skeletal health in Medieval Asturias, Spain


Central Identification Laboratory, Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command

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The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between Medieval mortuary status reflected in ad sanctos burialto markers of skeletal health,observed on individuals living in the predominantly rural communities of Medieval Asturias, Spain (~900-1800 AD).Ad sanctos burial, roughly translated to “in the presence of saints,” refers to the Medieval Christian practice of mortuary status reflected by burial in proximity to saintly remains or Christian relics (Naji 2005). Theoretically, this differential status indicates differential access to resources. High status burials are considered to be those within the walls of a church, while the lower status individuals were buried outside the church walls in the cemetery.

In this study, human skeletal remains recovered from 13 different archaeological contexts within the region of Asturias, Spain, were analyzed to address ad sanctos burial's relationship to health.Potentially confounding issues of poor preservation and limited contextual information were resolved by aggregatingthe multiple small Christian church cemetery samplesinto a single regional sample representing the general Medieval Asturian population. Standard demographic information as well as typical indicators of skeletal health and disease such as: linear enamel hypoplasia, tibial periostitis, cribra orbitalia, porotic hyperostosis, other bony infections, and adult stature were evaluated on all available individuals.

Results show that while ad sanctos mortuary treatment was practiced throughout Spain during the Medieval period, health differences between individuals buried within churches and in the common church cemetery are not statistically significant.

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