The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

The present informs the past: incorporating modern clinical data into paleopathological analyses of metabolic bone disease


Anthropology, McMaster University

March 26, 2015 , Gateway Ballroom 4 Add to calendar

Paleopathology, the study of disease in antiquity, exists at the intersection of medicine and anthropology; the contextualization of clinical data with anthropological theory forms the basis of paleopathological contributions to the understanding of metabolic bone diseases, including vitamin D deficiency (rickets and osteomalacia), vitamin C deficiency (scurvy), and osteoporosis. However, perceived dichotomies between method and theory, biology and culture, description and interpretation, and process and categorization serve to reinforce pervasive conceptions of the two fields as contrasting rather than collaborative. Significant differences exist in the evidence, methodologies, and approaches available to clinicians and to paleopathologists, and these differences affect how clinical data can be utilized in paleopathology. This poster examines the ways in which published paleopathological analyses of skeletal evidence for metabolic bone disease have applied clinical data in order to disclose attitudes toward the relative value of clinical approaches to and understandings of metabolic bone disease for paleopathological analyses. By examining how paleopathologists have approached the integration of clinical information, this project reveals the significant contributions that clinical data, technologies, and approaches have made to understandings of metabolic bone disease, as well as the limitations associated with applying clinical information in this context. This research suggests that more direct engagement of paleopathological analyses with clinical data as well as clear dialogue between the two fields to clarify the aims and interests of each will contribute to the development of a truly mutually beneficial relationship, aimed at gaining an improved understanding of past and present metabolic bone disease.