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

Multiple developmental stress events and mortality outcomes in the context of medieval English famines


Anthroplogy, University of South Carolina

April 18, 2020 , Diamond 6 Add to calendar

Research in living and past populations has revealed associations between the experience of physiological stress early in life and negative health outcomes later in life, but further work is needed to assess the context-specific nature of these associations. This study builds on previous work assessing the developmental origins of health outcomes in the context of crisis events (plague and famine) in medieval England. This study uses a sample of n = 276 individuals from the St. Mary Spital cemetery, London (SRP98, c. CE 1120-1540) who were interred in mass burials associated with periods of famine. The effects of multiple stress events during childhood (as indicated by macroscopic linear enamel hypoplasia, or LEH) on risks of mortality during periods of famine are assessed with a Cox proportional hazards model. Given previous findings of increasing risks of mortality with adult age during medieval famine, estimated negative effects of enamel hypoplasia on risk of mortality would suggest there is a detrimental effect of developmental stress on later mortality outcomes given that younger adults are otherwise expected to be at lower risks of mortality. The results of this study indicate that the presence/absence of LEH is not significantly associated with odds of dying. However, increasing numbers of LEH are positively associated with odds of dying, i.e., the risk of mortality increases with an increasing number of defects. These findings suggest a mortality cost, at least in the context of famine, associated with the experience (and survival) of multiple stress events during childhood.

Funding was provided by NSF (BCS-0406252), the Wenner-Gren Foundation(#8247).

Slides/Poster (pdf)