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

Death in the City – Differential non-adult mortality in post-medieval London


1Archaeology, Anthropology and Forensic Science, Bournemouth University, 2Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford

March 27, 2015 9:30, Grand Ballroom C Add to calendar

Human male excess mortality in non-adult age groups is an established empirical observation commonly linked to the X-chromosome-related favourable survival prospects of females. The extent of male disadvantage is dependent on various socio-ecological conditions and thus differs within and between societies. For archaeological populations, mortality differentials have been extensively studied as age-related trends; however, biological sex of juvenile individuals is perpetually being excluded, despite confirmation of suitable methods for the assessment of sub-adult sex from skeletal indicators, rendering the interpretation of non-adult mortality incomplete.

We present results of a study examining a total of 480 non-adult individuals from four cemetery populations of ascribed high and lower socio-economic status in London, dating to the 18th-19th century, to ascertain patterns of sex-differential mortality across the early life course. Overall, mortality sex ratios (MSR) were found to be greater in girls, yet with the exception of the foetal/perinatal and later childhood/adolescent periods, when male mortality was higher. At all sites, female mortality outweighs male mortality in infancy and early childhood, with peak MRS between one and five years of age. Significantly, this pattern prevails irrespective of socio-economic status (SES) of the populations studied. Girls of both high and low SES have similar mortality rates, while boys of low SES are much more affected in this age group than those of high SES. Conversely, male MRS of adolescent boys peaks in high SES populations. The findings are discussed against predictions from behavioural ecology in the context of London during the heydays of industrialisation.

Suported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.