Indicators of disease and trauma on bone and teeth

Methods for the analysis of skeletal remains have advanced tremendously in the last 10 years, and this has increased the capacity of researchers to obtain biological information on diet, health, and trauma that was previously unavailable. As shown earlier, paleopathology necessitates the understanding of skeletal responses to stress and change within the context of all potential variables that have an effect on the skeletal system’s ability to respond. Quantifiable changes in skeletal and dental materials reflect disturbances in growth and development, as well as in bone maintenance and repair (Scheuer and Black 2000). The cultural and biological stressors that cause observed bone changes can often be inferred. Occurrence of stress markers, lesions, or abnormalities at different stages in the life cycle can be examined and compared to the mortality rates of the group as a whole.

The impact of disease and trauma depends on their duration and virulence. An unusually strong stressor that is short in duration may have relatively little effect on bones and teeth. The unavailability of food for a few days can usually be tolerated by adults but may be dangerous for infants. A stressor that is relatively minor in the short run (such as a low-level toxin) may create a significant problem for survival if it persists. If stress is long lasting, severe, and uncontrolled, it may have devastating effects. It will be reflected in an increase in morbidity and mortality and a decrease in productivity and reproduction.

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