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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Charlotte Roberts

Roberts, C.A. (2014). Pathological conditions and anomalies in archaeological investigations. In Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology. Blau, S. & Ubelaker, D. Springer. 5823-5829.

Author(s) from Durham


The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This definition has not been amended since 1948 (http://​www.​who.​int/​suggestions/​faq/​en/​, accessed October 2011). This of course is a definition that relates to living populations but could be equally applied to the past. Being unhealthy today compromises normal life and the very function of society; this would have been true for our ancestors all over the world.
How can we study our ancestors’ health? It is possible to access information pertinent to health and disease in the past by studying historical documents describing disease, and viewing artistic representations of disease in particular periods in time (e.g., Fig. 1). In prehistoric times, these types of evidence are relatively nonexistent and they are more useful for more recent periods, for example, the medieval peri ...