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Ageing and the aged: the social and physical implications of senescence AD 900 – 1550

Mills, S. H. (2023) Ageing and the aged: the social and physical implications of senescence AD 900 – 1550. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00112294


Medieval documents confirm the existence of longevity and senescence in society, however osteological studies have struggled to identify the oldest individuals in the archaeological record, using ‘46+ years’ to encompass all older people. Longevity was explored through application of five traditional and six recently developed ageing methods, providing upper age estimations beyond this artificial cut-off point. The experience of senescence was investigated through palaeopathological analysis, including age-related disease and indicators of care provision, or the presence of physical abuse. Contemporaneous views regarding ageing and old age were explored through surviving literature, and varied according to an individual’s health, and their ability to contribute to society. The study sample comprised 700 adult males and females aged 35+ years at death, from four sites in the north-east of England, incorporating a cross-section of medieval society; Barton-upon-Humber, North Lincolnshire (n=309), Fishergate House, York (n=70), St. Helen-on-the-Walls, York (n=130) and Wharram Percy, Yorkshire (n=191). Re-ageing resulted in 108 (15.4%) individuals being between 60 and 69 years, and 40 (5.7%) being 70+ years. Using multiple ageing techniques enabled a review of the methods themselves; and with palaeopathological analysis, exploration into the potential of assessing individuals for frailty and ability, informing on their lived experience. Frailty scores increased from 1.85/individual to 3.13/individual from 35-45 to 70+ years. Conclusions suggest chronological age was not linked to decline of worth, unless also associated with loss of ability, through increasing morbidity. This was not limited to the very old, any individual exhibiting high frailty, meaning low ability, was significantly more likely to suffer abuse. The findings of this thesis challenge accepted notions of early mortality in archaeological populations and provide a significant contribution to the further understanding of the life course in the past, at a time when the world is facing an old-age crisis.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Lewis, M.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Archaeology, Geography & Environmental Science
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Archaeology
ID Code:112294
Date on Title Page:December 2021

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