Bone Health pp 17-34 | Cite as

Skeletal Health in Medieval Societies: Insights from Ancient Bone Collagen Stable Isotopes and Dental Histology

  • Justyna J. MiszkiewiczEmail author
  • Tahlia J. Stewart
  • Chris A. Deter
  • Geraldine E. Fahy
  • Patrick Mahoney


Human skeletal remains retrieved from medieval European archaeological sites are the most direct surviving evidence for bone and dental health, disease, and lifestyles of populations ruled by feudalism. Because the Middle Ages is a relatively recent period in human history characterised by phases of rapid demographic increase and decline (e.g. the Black Death pandemic), the surviving skeletal data can be interpreted alongside historical records. Consequently, medieval human remains form a valuable biocultural source of socio-economic status (SES) and skeletal health relationships that have been of utility in anthropology and can benefit clinical medicine. Multiple studies have investigated the many different variables associated with medieval lifestyles, using both standard gross anatomical examination of the human skeleton and microscopic indicators of bone and dental growth. Here, we provide selected examples of publications that demonstrate the effects of medieval SES on the human skeleton. We also undertake a short analysis of medieval English bone collagen stable isotope data to reconstruct SES-specific diet and of medieval English teeth to reconstruct episodes of childhood stress related to SES and weaning age within the context of historical textual evidence.


Medieval populations Bones Teeth Lifestyle Diet Protein 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Justyna J. Miszkiewicz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tahlia J. Stewart
    • 1
  • Chris A. Deter
    • 2
  • Geraldine E. Fahy
    • 2
  • Patrick Mahoney
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Archaeology and AnthropologyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.School of Anthropology and ConservationUniversity of KentCanterburyUK

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