Oral Disease and Health Patterns : Dental and Cranial Paleopathology of the Early Iron Age Population at Smörkullen in Alvastra, Sweden

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies Stockholm University

Abstract: In skeletal remains of ancient populations, evidence of dental and craniofacial pathology is often well preserved in the form of lesions on the teeth or bones. Meticulous, detailed recording of these lesions provides baseline data on which a realistic assessment can be made of the probable impact of dental diseases and its sequelae on health of these earlier populations.In the present thesis, dental and cranial pathology were recorded in the remains of an Iron Age population, with special reference to the possible impact of such conditions on general health and well-being. The skeletal remains had been excavated early last century from the burial ground Smörkullen, Alvastra, Östergötland, in Eastern Central Sweden: osteological analyses showed that the material comprised the remains of 65 subadult individuals and 104 adult individuals of both sexes. The dental status of most of the adult individuals was poor. Calculus, periodontitis, moderate and severe carious lesions and periapical infections were recorded. In contrast, subadult showed less evidence of dental disease. The results indicate that the perception of health in adults was probably negatively affected by their poor oral status. The dental status of subadults, on the other hand, was unlikely to have had a negative impact on their general well-being. A sex difference was observed in the material, males tending to more ongoing disease than females. Overall, the frequencies of both dental and cranial pathologies increased with age.Caries frequency in the material was noticeable higher than in numerous other studies in Scandinavian populations. Although the high caries rates at Smörkullen may be attributable to a diet rich in carbohydrates, the result may to some extent have been influenced by observer experience. Caries rates in other populations are likely to be under-estimated in comparison with Smörkullen. However, methodological factors alone cannot not explain all the observed differences.The recording of cranial pathologies disclosed malnutrition and upper respiratory problems in all age groups in the Smörkullen material. This most certainly affected their well-being. In some cases the pathology observed was directly associated with life-threatening conditions. Analyses of combinations of pathologies suggest that a combination of linear enamel hypoplasias and cribra orbitalia, mainly observed in those who died before the age of fifteen, may have been related to a lower probability of survival. 

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