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The comparative paleopathology of males and females in English medieval skeletal samples in its social context

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posted on 15.12.2014, 10:42 authored by Clare Helen Duncan
The aim of this study was to determine whether there is evidence to suggest that males and females in medieval England experienced differences in health and mortality. which could be objectively demonstrated from their skeletal remains. Palaeodemographic and palaeopathological data pertaining to a total sample of 1,056 adult males and 674 adult females were compared statistically. The material was derived from seven cemeteries, spanning the period from c. 1066-1540. A method for sexing subadults using tooth measurements was also developed. This enabled the comparative analysis to be extended to include a further 83 (47 'male'. 36 'female') individuals aged between c. 5-18 years. Sex differences in mortality, general health status, activity related pathology and dental disease were identified. However, the differences were often subtle, with age and site differences tending to transcend disparities between the sexes, perhaps suggesting that factors other than sex had a greater bearing on health and mortality. Females displayed an inclination toward an earlier age at death, but no statistical association between sex and age at death was demonstrated. The collective analysis of four stress indicators (stature, enamel hypoplasia, cribra orbitalia and non-specific infection) suggested that males were inclined to experience a poorer level of general health. This was primarily interpreted as evidence to support the theory that males have a greater biological sensitivity to environmental stress. Males displayed a higher prevalence of fractures, particularly those caused through violence a greater prevalence of Schmorfs nodes and a tendency toward a higher prevalence of osteoarthritis in the appendicular skeleton. Sex differences in the anatomical distribution of fractures and joint disease were also detected. Females displayed a proclivity towards poorer dental health. Interpretations for the observed patterns are discussed, and the limitations of the method are evaluated.


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University of Leicester

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