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Physiological Stress, Bone Growth and Development in Imperial Rome

  • Author(s): Beauchesne, Patrick Denis
  • Advisor(s): Agarwal, Sabrina
  • et al.

This study investigates bone maintenance and loss within a life course perspective in the Imperial Roman population of Velia. The use of biocultural factors, such as diet, reproductive history and physical activity are emphasized in the interpretive process. A total of 135 individuals were examined. Bone loss is assessed using three methods: radiogrammetry of the 2nd metacarpal, rib cortical histomorphometry, and the analysis of trabecular architecture in L4 vertebrae. Physiological stress in adults is explored using porotic hyperostosis, cribra orbitalia and periostitis. Stress during growth and development is investigated through dental enamel hypoplasias, vertebral neural canal sizes and skeletal growth profiles of juvenile skeletons. Analyses of bone of maintenance and loss reveal that bone loss in the Velia population did not follow similar patterns to modern communities. The most meaningful difference was that no sex differences were observed between males and females for all three measures of bone maintenance and loss. In addition, the analyses of radiogrammetry, histomorphometry and trabecular architecture all support a hypothesis that strenuous physical activity over the life course helped mediate bone loss with age, particularly in females. The reproductive history of females in the Roman period is also hypothesized to have played a protective role in mediating bone loss. Physiological stress was common in the juvenile and adult stages of life, but this stress did not seemingly affect bone remodeling and loss with age or between the sexes. The approaches used in this dissertation advance bioarchaeological theory by implementing a life course perspective that emphasize developmental plasticity to investigating bone loss. This study also contributes methodologically by demonstrating the importance of using multiple lines of evidence when exploring bone loss in past populations.

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