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

A Tale of Two Towns: Exploring the Impact of the Osteological Paradox on Interpretations of Bioarchaeological Data within the DOHaD Framework


Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield

April 18, 2020 , Diamond 6 Add to calendar

The Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) hypothesis has become a focus of intense research interest. However, methodologies investigating DOHaD in past populations often come with their own implicit biases, and interpretations are potentially further complicated when viewed through the lens of the osteological paradox. Integrating non-adult morbidity and mortality data with concepts from the osteological paradox enables a discussion concerning prediction of health risks following early life adversity for survivors into adulthood.

171 non-adults from two 18th/19th century cemeteries in North-East England were assessed for age-at-death, dental enamel hypoplasia, vitamin D deficiency, and growth parameters. A clear dichotomy exists in the results, with Coach Lane (North Shields, n=81) exhibiting greater evidence of ‘stress’ than Coronation Street (South Shields, n=90). However, significant growth deficiencies reveal that Coronation Street non-adults were not necessarily ‘healthier’, perhaps instead succumbing to acute stressors (e.g. infectious disease). Considering social context, non-conformists (Coach Lane) possibly received greater intra-community care than those reliant on parish poor relief, with prevalent pathology alternatively reflecting longer survival, and better resilience.

These three scenarios generate an equally varied discussion of consequences for ‘survivors’. Should we expect an adaptive response to stress, increased frailty, or heightened mortality selecting out those experiencing childhood privation? Are the cumulative effects of living in notoriously poor environments a greater determinant of adult longevity? A simple comparative study can produce numerous narratives regarding health throughout the life-course. Only through multiple lines of evidence, and systematic consideration of the osteological paradox, can the strongest inferences be made.

Slides/Poster (pdf)