how far can archaeologists determine the health of past populations?

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  • Created by: Cara
  • Created on: 21-05-12 12:13

How far can archaeologists determine the health of past populations?

Archaeologists use a variety of different methods to understand the health of past populations. Knowing the health of these past populations can help us to understand more about their societies, for example their health could also be an indicator of their social status and work.

Archaeologists can understand the health of past populations by studying intact skeletal remains. By studying these remains archaeologists can often uncover the cause of death and even diseases of the deceased. Doing X-ray analysis of bones may reveal Harris lines, which occur when growth during childhood is interrupted by illness or malnutrition. This can also been seen as Beau’s lines on finger nails, these shallow grooves also indicated slowed growth. There is evidence of Beau’s lines on Otzi, he has 3 grooves on his one remaining finger nails, and this suggests bouts of crippling disease 4, 3 and 2 months before he died. Some diseases, like polio or certain cancers, leave marks on the bone, allowing archaeologists to understand how these people died and what caused it. These diseases may erode the bones or cause growths and alter the structure of the bones. For example archaeologists have discovered DNA of leprosy bacterium isolated from an 1,400 year old skeleton in Israel. However many infectious diseases don’t leave any marks on the bone, archaeologists then have to study the soft tissue remains.

Archaeologists study soft tissue remains by using a variety of techniques, for example non destructive methods such as X-rays and CAT scans and also more destructive techniques such as Tissue sampling and Analytical Electron Microscopy. One of the best examples of studying soft tissue remains is bog bodies, like Lindow Man. The conditions in the peat bog perfectly preserved Lindow man, so much so that his hair, skin and internal organs are well preserved. This made dating him using radio carbon dating a simple process that uncovered that he died between 2 BC and AD119. By studying his remains archaeologists uncovered that he had done very little manual work due to his manicured finger nails. They even uncovered that Lindow man was suffering with Osteoarthritis and that he was of blood type O. They also discovered that there was no evidence that he was unwell before he died, although he was suffering from parasitic worms. Due to the level of preservation archaeologists can understand his cause of death; it is likely that


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