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Dying young: a palaeopathological analysis of child health in Roman Britain

Rohnbogner, A. (2015) Dying young: a palaeopathological analysis of child health in Roman Britain. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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Abstract/Summary

Children represent the most vulnerable members of society, and as such provide valuable insight into past lifeways. Adverse environmental conditions translate more readily into the osteological record of children, making them primary evidence for the investigation of ill-health in the past. To date, most information on growing up in Roman Britain has been based on the Classical literature, or discussed in palaeopathological studies with a regional focus, e.g. Dorset or Durnovaria. Thus, the lifestyles and everyday realities of children throughout Britannia remained largely unknown. This study sets out to fill this gap by providing the first large scale analysis of Romano-British children from town and country. The palaeopathological analysis of 1643 non-adult (0-17 years) skeletons, compiled from the literature (N=690) and primary osteological analysis (N=953), from 27 urban and rural settlements has highlighted diverse patterns in non-adult mortality and morbidity. The distribution of ages-at-death suggest that older children and adolescents migrated from country to town, possibly for commencing their working lives. True prevalence rates suggest that caries (1.8%) and enamel hypoplasia (11.4%) were more common in children from major urban towns, whereas children in the countryside displayed higher frequencies of scurvy (6.9%), cribra orbitalia (27.7%), porotic hyperostosis (6.2%) and endocranial lesions (10.9%). Social inequality in late Roman Britain may have been the driving force behind these urban-rural dichotomies. The results may point to exploitation of the peasantry on the one hand, and higher status of the urban population as a more ‘Romanised’ group on the other. Comparison with Iron Age and post-medieval non-adults also demonstrated a decline in health in the Roman period, with some levels of ill-health, particularly in the rural children, similar to those from post-medieval London. This research provides the most comprehensive study of non-adult morbidity and mortality in Roman Britain to date. It has provided new insights into Romano-British lifeways and presents suggestions for further work.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Lewis, M. and Eckardt, H.
Thesis/Report Department:Department of Archaeology
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Archaeology
ID Code:55814

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