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


Body-society interactions during childhood in post-medieval Leeds, England: Metabolic disease, lead exposure and allostasis 

PAULA A. MONGUI1, JANET MONTGOMERY1, JULIA BEAUMONT2, ANWEN C. CAFFELL1,3, REBECCA L. GOWLAND1 and CHRIS J. OTTLEY4.

1Archaeology, Durham University, 2School of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford, 3Osteoarchaeology, York Osteoarchaeology, 4Earth Sciences, Durham University

April 17, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Metabolic disease in bioarchaeology has been associated with poor diet and living conditions, but lead (Pb) poisoning can also act as a primary or contributing factor. This relationship was explored using the allostasis framework in a post-medieval population (Victoria Gate, Leeds, England), where documentary evidence suggested an already high allostatic load due to precarious living conditions. The skeletal remains of 14 individuals (8 non-adults, 6 adults) were analysed macroscopically using established criteria to evaluate metabolic disease. Teeth from 10 individuals were sampled for Pb trace element analysis using ICP-MS. Four non-adults were identified with scurvy, 5 with active rickets, and 3 with metabolic disease comorbidity. Five adults had residual rickets. Pb mean concentration was 15.5 mg/Kg, and Pb exposure was consistent during childhood. No correlation between level of Pb exposure and age-at-death, or presence/severity of disease was found. The results suggest a variety of social and environmental factors influenced health, further supported by the wider variation in Pb concentration in adults with residual rickets. Pb concentration was below average for post-medieval England, but correlation with Pb blood values indicates serious physiological disruptions to normal bodily functions. Pb exposure contributed to allostatic overload, but it was not the main factor of disease burden. It is likely disease and pollution had inter-generational consequences, which were then further compounded by the dire living conditions. Thus, the altered homeostasis would have been easily disrupted. The main limitations of this study are the small sample size and lack of comparative studies.

Janet Montgomery, Durham University


Slides/Poster (pdf)