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Investigating Morbidity and Malaria in Anglo-Saxon Wetland Environments
A research project of the Department of Archaeology.
Historical evidence indicates that the impact of low lying wetland environments on the health of past populations was profound. Malaria (specifically plasmodium vivax) has been strongly implicated in the morbidity and mortality data recorded for historical populations living in wetland environments. A large number of Anglo-Saxon cemetery and settlement sites have been excavated from such locales. This British Academy funded research aims to apply the current methodologies of spatial epidemiology to palaeopathological data in order to assess the health of these populations compared with those living on higher land. This project is managed by Dr Becky Gowland and is in collaboration with research assistants Gaynor Western and Martin Redding.
We have found statistically significant correlations between geology, topography, the putative presence of endemic malaria and the spatial distribution of cribra orbitalia (CO) prevalence rates amongst Anglo-Saxon populations in England. The precise aetiology of CO is unknown. However, in palaeopathology, it is generally associated with haemolytic and megaloblastic anaemias. Malaria is well established clinically to be accompanied by haemolytic anaemia and has historically been distributed in very specific environments in England (i.e. low lying wetland areas). Recent epidemiological studies have highlighted the usefulness of geographical correlation studies in identifying aetiological factors in disease prevalence. Here, we are applying the methodology used in spatial epidemiology to skeletal data in order to elucidate the underlying environmental risk factors of CO and, more specifically, to illuminate the relationship between CO and malaria.
Journal papers: academic
- Gowland, R.L. & Western, A.G. (2012). Morbidity in the Marshes: Using Spatial Epidemiology to Investigate Skeletal Evidence for Malaria in Anglo-Saxon England (AD410-1050). American Journal of Physical Anthropology 147(2): 301-311.
- Gowland, R. L. & Garnsey, P. (2010). Skeletal evidence for health, nutritional status and malaria in Rome and the empire. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplement 78: 131-156.