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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Rebecca Gowland

Newman, S. L. & Gowland, R. L. (2015). The Use of Non-Adult Vertebral Dimensions as Indicators of Growth Disruption and Non-Specific Health Stress in Skeletal Populations. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 158(1): 155-164.

Author(s) from Durham


Traditional methods of detecting growth disruption have focused on deficiencies in the diaphyseal length of the long bones. This study proposes the implementation of vertebral measurements (body height and transverse diameter of the neural canal) from non-adults (0–17 years) as a new methodology for the identification of growth disruption.

Measurements of vertebral body height and transverse diameter were taken from 96 non-adult skeletons and 40 adult skeletons from two post-medieval sites in England (Bow Baptist, London and Coronation Street, South Shields). Non-adult measurements were plotted against dental age to construct vertebral growth profiles through which inter-population comparisons could be made.

Results demonstrated that both sites experienced some growth retardation in infancy, evident as deficiencies in transverse diameter. However, analysis of vertebral body height revealed different chronologies of growth disruption between the sites, with a later age of attainment of skeletal maturity recorded in the Bow Baptist sample.

These vertebral dimensions undergo cessation of growth at different ages, with transverse diameter being “locked-in” by ∼1–2 years of age, while vertebral body height may continue to grow into early adulthood. These measurements can therefore provide complementary information regarding the timing of growth disruption within archaeological populations. Non-adult vertebral measurements can increase our osteobiographical understanding of the timings of episodes of health stress, and allow for the analysis of growth when other skeletal elements are fragmentary.