We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Global History of Health Project (European Module)

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


The study of very large datasets to explore trends in changing patterns of health in the past has been rare until the recent formation of the Global History of Health Project (GHHP), based at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, USA and funded by the National Science Foundation. This effort developed from the Western Hemisphere Health Project (WHHP - Steckel and Rose, 2002 The backbone of history. Cambridge University Press) which assessed health in 12,500 skeletons from the Americas for individuals who lived from 5,000 BP to the late nineteenth century. The analysis compared health within and across regions that were subdivided into 65 localities.

The project

The GHHP was established in 2001 and is now focused on Europe. The difference between the WHHP and the GHHP lies in the scope of data collection, and an expanded list of variables coded in a standard way into an on-line database. This is a large and ambitious project which has created three large databases of skeletal data, which will allow researchers to reinterpret the history of human health in Europe from the late Paleolithic era to the early twentieth century ( During this period, human health and welfare were transformed enormously by the transition from foraging to farming, the rise of cities and complex forms of social and political organization, European colonization; and industrialization. With a trans-Atlantic network of collaborators, demographic and health data from over 17,000 individual skeletons have been recorded in a database which will lead to large-scale comparative studies of the causes and health consequences of these and other dramatic changes in arrangements for work, living, and human interaction. There are 23 countries participating in the project. Over 30 senior investigators and an additional 40 graduate students have been responsible for the data collection and its input. Charlotte Roberts is the UK coordinator and with Clark Larsen, and Rick Steckel is currently working with colleagues to bring the project to publication.

Progress on the project

The first datasets were presented at the Anthropological Society of Paris' 150 year Anniversary International Congress 2009 and at a poster symposium at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Physical Anthropologists in Chicago in 2009 (American Journal of Physical Anthropology Supplement 48 (2009). Papers are now being prepared for publication in a special issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.


From the Department of Archaeology

Scottish Soldiers Project

Cooperating with the Palace Museum in China