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Past Endemic Malaria and Adaptive Responses in the Fens and Marshlands of Eastern England

KENDALL, ROSS (2014) Past Endemic Malaria and Adaptive Responses in the Fens and Marshlands of Eastern England. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

[img]PDF (Ross Kendall PhD thesis) - Accepted Version


Changes in climate have increased concerns over the return of temperate malaria to the United Kingdom. Hence, studies of ancient disease are becoming more relevant for future health predictions in areas which are under threat of disease re-emergence. Conditions were likely ideal for Plasmodium vivax malaria from at least the Roman period, and recent research on Anglo-Saxon Fen populations has suggested an indigenous malarial presence. The primary aim of this project was to investigate the presence of English malaria in archaeological Fen cemetery populations from the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and later medieval periods (c. AD 40-1600), using biomolecular analyses of human bone, and palaeopathological analyses via extant published data. A further aim was to investigate Masters’ (1987) hypothesis concerning preferential survival of non-collagenous proteins (NCPs) within archaeological bone.

Indirect evidence for malaria was sought by reassessing archaeological reports for osteological evidence of the genetic anaemia β thalassaemia at 13 cemetery sites (five Roman, seven Anglo-Saxon, one late medieval) closely associated with the Fens and marshlands of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. A palaeodemographic comparison of 30 Fen (five Roman, 21 Anglo-Saxon, four late medieval) and 31 non-Fen (nine Roman, 18 Anglo-Saxon, four late medieval) cemetery populations was also undertaken to assess any impact of vivax malaria on mortality. Osteological evidence does not support the presence of past thalassaemia, with palaeodemographic analysis suggesting an acquired, rather than genetic immunity in the Fens. Possible evidence emerged for ‘healthy adaptation’ to the increased stresses of Fenland life, and one population provided tentative evidence of intrauterine growth restriction, a condition strongly linked to endemic P. vivax. Direct evidence was sought by attempting to extract and test anti-malarial antibodies from human bone samples from 13 Fen-associated cemetery sites (five Roman, seven Anglo-Saxon, one late medieval), encompassing 24 individuals. Bone preservation was assessed in over 200 samples to provide a baseline for sample selection for biomolecular analysis.

Analysis of bone samples proved unsupportive of Masters’ (1987) hypothesis. However, a range of endogenous proteins and a possible pathogenic disease marker were revealed, as was a correlation between bone preservation and NCP content. Evaluation of extraction protocols failed to yield antibodies which, if present, were consistently masked by collagen. Consequently, a novel antibody extraction technique has been developed. If successful, this could lead to a replicable technique of ancient, reactive antibody isolation, which would offer an invaluable new tool in biomolecular palaeopathology.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2014
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:25 Nov 2014 11:30

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