Fetal, Perinatal, Neonatal and Infant Skeletal Palaeopathology as an Indicator of Maternal Health and Population Stress.
Tibbetts, Belinda Winton
Date: 28 June 2017
University of Exeter
PhD in Archaeology
The palaeopathology of very young individuals offers valuable information for the study of maternal, fetal, perinatal, neonatal and infant health in past populations. The primary aims of this research are to differentiate skeletal pathology from normal appearance in very young individuals, to assess the relationship between the ...
The palaeopathology of very young individuals offers valuable information for the study of maternal, fetal, perinatal, neonatal and infant health in past populations. The primary aims of this research are to differentiate skeletal pathology from normal appearance in very young individuals, to assess the relationship between the palaeopathology of very young individuals and maternal physiological stress, and to evaluate the ways in which past communities responded to perinatal, infant and maternal mortality. The palaeopathology described below is determined through non-destructive methods analysis of skeletal remains and involves macroscopic examination and metrical analysis. The research sample is drawn from seven archaeological collections (Ardreigh, n=87; Baron Court Farm, n=55; Çatalhöyük, n=86; Gussage All Saints, n=35; Wetwang Slack, n=36; Wharram Percy, n=83; Yewden villa, n=56), two reference collections (Royal College of London, n=199; Scheuer, n=29), one of which also includes archaeological material, and five modern perinatal pathology cases. The identified skeletal pathology is considerable and ranges from minor morphological variation through to agenesis, and trauma associated with obstetric complications. There is strong evidence in the form and severity of palaeopathology for compromised maternal condition during pregnancy. Skeletal pathology was evident in two thirds of the young individuals analysed with the majority of these falling into the perinatal and neonatal age categories. There is evidence for population specific skeletal pathology, particularly with respect to non-metric variants such as intrajugular bridging and vertebral border shifting. Several causes of mortality were positively identified and many individuals display skeletal pathology indicative of a significantly compromised physiological state during gestation and early infancy. Maternal health prior to and during pregnancy is demonstrated to have had a considerable impact on the development and growth of their offspring. The palaeopathology of the past populations studied revealed that they experienced undernutrition and malnutrition, exposure to infectious diseases, accidental and intentional physical trauma and periods of social disruption. These communities also had access to supportive treatment and intervention that is evidenced in the numerous cases of healed and healing skeletal pathology. The response of the living towards the death of mothers and very young individuals in the past populations studied is revealed through their funerary treatment of these individuals and provides insight into the broader socio-cultural and personal contributions to burial practices in each community.
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