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Work and the adolescent in medieval England (AD 900-1550): the osteological evidence

Lewis, M. ORCID: (2016) Work and the adolescent in medieval England (AD 900-1550): the osteological evidence. Medieval Archaeology, 60 (1). pp. 138-171. ISSN 0076-6097

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1080/00766097.2016.1147787


What was it like to be a teenager in medieval England? Despite the fact that medieval society often singled young apprentices and workers out for comment, their study has been largely neglected in medieval archaeology. The skeletal remains of 4940 adolescents (6.6-25 years) from 151 sites in medieval England was compiled from a combination of primary data collection and secondary data from published and unpublished skeletal reports and on-line databases. The aim was to explore whether apprentices could be identified in the archaeological record and if so, at what age they started work and what impact occupation had on their health. The data were divided into urban and rural groups, dating from before and after the Black Death of AD 1348-9, and before the Industrial Revolution. A shift in the demographic pattern of urban and rural adolescents was identified after the Black Death, with a greater number of young females residing in the urban contexts after 14 years. The average age of males increased from 12 years to 14 years after the plague years, contrary to what we might expect from the documentary sources. There were higher rates of spinal and joint disease in the urban adolescents and their injuries were more widespread than their rural counterparts. Domestic service was the potential cause of the greater strain on the knees and backs of the urban females, with interpersonal violence evident in the young urban males. Overall, it was the urban females that carried the burden of respiratory and infectious diseases suggesting they may have been the most vulnerable group. This study has demonstrated the value of adolescent skeletal remains in revealing information about their health and working life, before and after the Black Death.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Scientific Archaeology
Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Archaeology
ID Code:50828
Publisher:Taylor & Francis


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