Grave tales : an osteological assessment of health and lifestyle from 18th and 19th century burial sites around Cape Town

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Two unwalled 18th and 19th century colonial burial sites, Cobern Street and Marina Residence, were assessed osteologically and dentally to reconstruct the life histories and activity patterns of the poorer people living at the Cape. This was done to add to the history and knowledge of the descendants of these people, as little other information exists on them. Questions pertaining to diet, stress, activity patterns and trauma were investigated. Visual (standard and novel macroscopic methods e.g. distal humeri method), metric (femoral neck method) and histological (proximal anterior femur) techniques were tested and employed to estimate age and sex, as the skeletal material was fragmentary and incomplete. Only adults were assessed and analysed (n = 86 and n = 75 for Cobern Street and Marina Residence respectively) as the infant, juvenile and sub-adult skeletal material was too badly preserved and fragmentary to attempt reconstruction. Mortality profiles reveal that the two study sites were different in community dynamics. They led hard active lives as seen from their muscle marking and degenerative joint disease patterns. Osteoarthritis was not only very frequent within the groups but was found in much of the younger adult skeletal material. Stress and trauma were relatively low within the two populations. Dental disease was relatively high within the two study groups. This was as a result of a carbohydrate rich diet and poor oral hygiene. Thus the food they were consuming as well as the activities they were involved in had a huge impact on their lives. The first possible cases of syphilis, tuberculosis and Paget's disease at the Cape were found within these two study groups.

Includes bibliographical references (p. 249-270).