Sex differences in mortality in Lower Austria and Vienna in the Early Medieval period

Sex differences in mortality in Lower Austria and Vienna in the Early Medieval period

By Martina Herold

PhD Dissertation, University of Vienna, 2008

Abstract: The prevalent reduced female life expectancy compared to their male contemporaries in Prehistoric and Historic times is often exclusively ascribed to maternal death. Since comprehensive demographic data were only recorded from the Post Medieval period on and maternal death leaves reliable archaeological traces only in very rare cases, this assertion can not be easily tested. Based on five Early Medieval cemetery populations (Leobersdorf, Zwölfaxing, Wien-Csokorgasse, Pitten and Pottenbrunn) from different parts of Lower Austria and Vienna, this work analyses, by applying methods such as mortality profiling, macroscopic examination and stable isotope analysis, other possible contributing factors to these sex differences in life expectancy.

The demographic analysis reveals a significantly higher life expectancy for men in the examined populations. In all five investigated populations the female mortality is consistently highest in the adult age class. A significant excess of female mortality can be observed in the juvenile and the adult age classes, corresponding with the female reproductive phase, can be observed. A macroscopic investigation of the individuals regarding the prevalence of the stress markers linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH) and cribra orbitalia leads to the conclusion that dietary deficiencies as well as various pathological processes, manifesting themselves in cribra orbitalia, must be regarded as one additional factor leading to decreased female life expectancy in the investigated populations. The nitrogen stable isotope analysis reveals with a very high significance lower 15N values of female individuals, pointing at a more restricted access of females to animal food resources. Greater deficiencies in iron, amino acids, protein and vitamin D intake of the females of the sites compared to the males can be assumed as a consequence of this, all contributing to the reduced female life expectancy.

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