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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2012 Aug;148(4):512-24. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22066. Epub 2012 Mar 28.

Scurvy in the Great Irish Famine: evidence of vitamin C deficiency from a mid-19th century skeletal population.

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1
School of Geography, Archaeology, and Palaeoecology, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland. jgeber01@qub.ac.uk

Abstract

Scurvy has increasingly been recognized in archaeological populations since the 1980s but this study represents the first examination of the paleopathological findings of scurvy in a known famine population. The Great Famine (1845-1852) was a watershed in Irish history and resulted in the death of one million people and the mass emigration of just as many. It was initiated by a blight which completely wiped out the potato-virtually the only source of food for the poor of Ireland. This led to mass starvation and a widespread occurrence of infectious and metabolic diseases. A recent discovery of 970 human skeletons from mass burials dating to the height of the famine in Kilkenny City (1847-1851) provided an opportunity to study the skeletal manifestations of scurvy-a disease that became widespread at this time due to the sudden lack of Vitamin C which had previously almost exclusively been provided by the potato. A three-scale diagnostic reliance approach has been employed as a statistical aid for diagnosing the disease in the population. A biocultural approach was adopted to enable the findings to be contextualized and the etiology and impact of the disease explored. The results indicate that scurvy indirectly influenced famine-induced mortality. A sex and stature bias is evident among adults in which males and taller individuals displayed statistically significantly higher levels of scorbutic lesions. The findings have also suggested that new bone formation at the foramen rotundum is a diagnostic criterion for the paleopathological identification of scurvy, particularly among juveniles.

PMID:
22460661
PMCID:
PMC3467765
DOI:
10.1002/ajpa.22066
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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