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

Health in post-Black Death London (1350-1538): Age patterns of periosteal new bone formation in a post-epidemic population


Anthropology, University of South Carolina

Friday 4:15-4:30, Ballroom A Add to calendar

Previous research has shown that the Black Death targeted older adults and individuals who were already in poor health. This project investigates whether this selectivity of the Black Death, combined with post-epidemic rising standards of living, led to significant improvements in health among survivors and their descendants. Patterns of periosteal lesions (which have been previously shown, using hazards analysis, to be associated with elevated risks of mortality in medieval London) are compared between samples from pre-Black Death (c. 1000-1200, n = 262) and post-Black Death (c. 1350-1538, n = 133) London cemeteries. To avoid the assumptions that stress markers provide a direct measure of health and that a change in frequencies of the stress marker by itself indicates changes in health, this study assesses the joint distribution of age and stress marker to obtain a more nuanced understanding of the population-level effects of an epidemic disease. Age-at-death in these samples is estimated using transition analysis, which provides point estimates of age even for the oldest adults in these samples and thus allows for an examination of physiological stress across the lifespan. The frequency of lesions is significantly higher in the post-Black Death sample (p = 0.05), which, at face value, might suggest a decline in health. However, a significant positive association between age and periosteal lesions (p = 0.004), as well as a significantly higher number of older adults (p = 0.001) in the post-Black Death sample actually suggests improvements in health following the epidemic.

Data for this study come from projects funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation (#8247), the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (Professional Development Award), the School for Advanced Research, and the Ethel-Jane Westfeldt Bunting Foundation.

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