Stress Along the Medieval Anglo-Scottish Border? Skeletal Indicators of Conflict-Zone Health


 Stress Along the Medieval Anglo-Scottish Border? Skeletal Indicators of Conflict-Zone Health

By Jaime D. Jennings

PhD Dissertation, Durham University, 2010

Abstract: Health changes experienced by populations living in regions of conflict have come to the forefront of research in light of recent increases in socio-political instability in modern populations. Political and ethnic unrest in modern populations have been shown to instigate a decline in the health of people living within the region of unrest. Population displacement and sabotage of resources associated with violent conflict has lead to increased prevalence rates of malnutrition and infectious diseases in addition to increased mortality.

The aim of this study was to bridge the gap in literature between modern medical anthropology population studies of the health consequences of living in a conflict-zone and bioarchaeological population studies of demographic and palaeopathological indicators of stress. To achieve the aim, a bioarchaeological survey of four medieval (ca. 900 – 1600 AD) British cemetery populations along the Anglo-Scottish border, described as a conflict-zone in contemporary historical documents, was conducted to calculate rates of mortality and morbidity in a socio-politically ‘stressed’ population. This conflict-zone population was hypothesised to have demonstrated higher rates of mortality, stunting, wasting, non-specific indicators of stress, and metabolic bone diseases when compared to four ‘unstressed’ contemporary skeletal populations from neighbouring cemeteries.

Direct comparison of the two regions did not indicate a difference in overall mortality or morbidity between the two populations. However, the conflict-zone population demonstrated higher prevalence rates of cribra orbitalia, periosteal bone lesions, and vitamin C deficiencies in the few available non-adults along with higher rates of enamel hypoplasia in the young adults. These contradictory results call into question both the documentary evidence regarding the longevity and severity of medieval border warfare and the sensitivity of osteological data to health changes associated with a conflict-zone lifestyle. The focus of future bioarchaeological research on conflict-zones in past populations must focus on refining the relationship between causal factors and skeletal indicators of stress.

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Sharan Newman