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

Specifying the nonspecific in paleopathology: A stable isotope investigation of metabolic disorders in North-Central Poland


1Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia, 2Department of Anthropology, Nicolaus Copernicus University

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Diet is a risk factor for many pathological conditions, but the nonspecific nature of skeletal manifestations of pathology obfuscates the role of diet among other possibilities. This study explores the role of diet in the metabolic disorder rickets by comparing stable carbon and nitrogen isotope signatures of subadult skeletons with and without pathological changes associated with rickets from a medieval cemetery at Gruczno, North-Central Poland.

Rickets results from vitamin D deficiency in childhood, due to low sunlight exposure and/or dietary insufficiency. Some vitamin D-rich foods are mushrooms, fish, egg yolks and liver. Signs of metabolic diseases such as rickets and scurvy are uncommon among skeletons from Poland and Europe (usually <2%). In some populations they are more prevalent (8-10%). As part of broader investigations of skeletal health at Gruczno, we test the hypothesis that isotopic signatures of 3 subadults without skeletal pathological changes do not overlap with those from an unusual subadult showing severe rickets (long bone bowing, ephyphysis deformation, bone porosity and periosteal reactions).

Studied individuals were 3-5.5 years old at death. Pathological lesions were examined and diagnosed macroscopically and by X-ray. Isotopic analyses were conducted using rib collagen.

Subadult δ13C values show little variation (range: –19.91 to –20.07‰). δ15N values range from 8.3‰ to 11.2‰. Although the difference is small, the subadult with severe signs of bone metabolic disorder exhibits the highest δ15N value. In addition to nutritional content of this individual’s diet, we consider the possibility of prolonged suckling, a known risk factor for rickets today.

This work was supported by the Polish Ministry of Science and High Education project No. N N303 822140.

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