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When in Gaul, do as the ‘Romans’ do? Shifting Health in Gaul during Late Antiquity (300-700 CE)

QUADE, LESLIE (2021) When in Gaul, do as the ‘Romans’ do? Shifting Health in Gaul during Late Antiquity (300-700 CE). Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 07 January 2024.


The fall of the Roman Empire has long been characterized as a period of regression and deterioration of living conditions across Europe– the ‘Dark Ages’. The nature of the cultural and political environment during Late Antiquity (300-700 CE) and whether transitions might be considered as continuous or catastrophic has been a contentious source of debate. Analyses of health data from human skeletal remains have yet to be fully integrated into discussions of societal change in Late Antiquity, despite their informative potential. If catastrophic hypotheses of Late Antique life experiences are correct, the social and political instability would have had a discernible effect on the health and well-being of the populace.

The skeletal remains of 844 individuals from Roman and Late Antique Gaul were analysed for demographic data (age, sex), growth disruption (Height-for-Age Z scores, femur length), non-specific stress indicators (dental enamel hypoplasia, cribra orbitalia, tibia periosteal reaction), carious lesions and trauma to contribute to current understanding of Late Antique transition. A subset of 65 individuals were also included in a pilot study for the detection of cortisol in dental enamel and dentine.

Gallo-Roman samples demonstrated more skeletal signs of stress than either Late Antique sample. This suggests that social and cultural factors rooted in Roman lifeways were more deleterious to health than the process of transformation. Gallo-Roman individuals may have been more regularly exposed to stressors throughout the life course, as a result of overcrowding and insalubrity in urban settlement structures. Changes in mortality patterns between males and females from the Roman period to Late Antiquity suggested a differential transition experience based on sex and gender. Cortisol concentrations were detected from within archaeological tooth dentine and enamel, but results were insufficiently linked to other skeletal stress indicators or sex. Stress experience as indexed through cortisol analysis did not reveal differences between Roman and Late Antique samples.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:health; stress; cortisol; societal transitions; gender; childhood
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:11 Jan 2021 10:00

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