Subadult skulls from protohistoric archaeological sites in Maryland and Georgia were surveyed for evidence of scurvy. Areas in which blood vessels are particularly vulnerable to abrasion by
muscle activity or trauma caused by minor injury or biomechanical activity were examined for lesions associated with scurvy. Of the 30 individuals surveyed from the Georgia site, only 3 possible cases of scurvy were found. We suggest this is not due to a lack of scurvy or an indication of adequate nutrition, but more likely the result of differential burial of the youngest children in combination with taphonomic variability in preservation of subadult bones. Both of these variables can be a problem in assessing pathological prevalence within samples from archaeological sites. Of the 65 individuals surveyed from the Maryland site, 10 (15.4%) were diagnosed as probable scorbutic based on presence of multiple lesions of abnormal porosity and/or porous bone formation in multiple areas of the skull known to be associated with hemorrhage in patients with the disease. This prevalence rate is comparable to rates of scurvy found in other Native American populations. Evidence of scurvy provides important information about the diet of these past populations and aids in the understanding of its effect on human adaptation and evolution.
Sara Marsteller, ’07 Alliance, NE
Donald J. Ortner, Ph.D
Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History
Sponsor: Marty Condon