The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Visualising mastoiditis with a potable X-ray system


1Archaeology, University of Sheffield, 2Neuroscience, University of Sheffield

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

This project aims to develop a new method of diagnosing mastoiditis in skeletal remains and to expand the understanding of the aetiology and epidemiology of mastoiditis. Mastoiditis is a common childhood infection and one of only a handful of processes that create permanent bony evidence of childhood physiological stress. Nonetheless, it is seldom studied archaeologically and the methods that exist are destructive or require access to large, stationary imaging equipment. We theorize that our method will produce radiographs diagnostic of both childhood mastoiditis (CM) and adult mastoiditis (AM); and the presence of mastoiditis in the sample will correlate with that of lesions indicative of chronic maxillary sinusitis (MS) and lower respiratory infection (LRI). A sample of 40 individuals from Black Gate cemetery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England (8th–12th century C.E.) were analysed. All individuals with at least one complete mastoid process had it/them imaged in three planes using a hand-held X-ray system. All individuals older than 16 years were examined for lesions indicative of MS and LRI. Almost half (13/27) of the sample had lesions indicative of CM and fifteen percent (6/40) had lesions indicative of AM. Of the individuals diagnosed with AM, 33.3% (2/6) and 16.7% (1/6) also had lesions indicative of MS and LRI, respectively. The method was successful at diagnosing both types of mastoiditis. That so many had lesions indicative of CM indicates that CM was common, but not always life threatening; the co-occurrence of AM, MS, and LRI suggests that broad environmental risk factors influenced the population’s morbidity.

Slides/Poster (pdf)