New Historian

Early History of Rickets Revealed by Ancient Skeleton

Whistler, Thesis on Rickets Title page (3)

<![CDATA[According to researchers in attendance at Bradford’s British Science Festival, an ancient skeleton from the Neolithic period has been identified as being afflicted by rickets. The skeletal remains, which were found on the island of Tiree in Scotland, are now considered to be evidence of the earliest case of the disease in the entirety of the UK. Rickets is caused by a lack of Vitamin D, usually a result of insufficient exposure to sunlight, making it much more common in urban British regions from the Victorian age rather than the kinds of rural agricultural communities that would have been prevalent at the time in Scotland, raising questions as to how the individual was afflicted by the disease in the first place. Analysis of the remains has revealed that the rickets sufferer was a woman, buried in a simple grave instead of a chamber in a tomb. This could indicate that the woman was treated differently by her community, most likely due to her deformities caused by rickets, according to the University of Bradford’s Professor Ian Armit. In a press release from the university, Prof. Armit remarked that the “very unusual” case of rickets may not be the earliest one of its type ever, but it’s at least 3,000 years older than the previous UK record-holder from the Roman period. The scientist explained that there must have been very specific circumstances surrounding the woman’s Vitamin D deficiency. Prof. Armit suggested several possibilities for a woman living in a rural environment to not be exposed to sunlight during her formative years, including being some sort of domestic slave or suffering from an illness that kept her inside constantly. Another possibility could be that she had some sort of important spiritual role within the community that necessitated her being covered by a costume from head to toe at all times. Originally discovered in 1912, alongside at least three other burials, by amateur archaeologists, it was originally assumed that the skeleton dated to the Iron Age, as the remains of a well-known settlement from that time period are present on the island as well. More recent research has carbon-dated the skeleton to the Neolithic period – more specifically to anywhere between 3090 BCE and 3340 BCE. According to dental analysis of the deceased woman, researchers were able to determine some of the details of her past, especially her diet when she was a young girl and teenager. Based on the levels of strontium found in her teeth, the woman was confirmed to have grown up on the island, but she had been exposed to several different physiological stresses such as poor health and malnutrition during her formative years. For some unknown reason, there was no evidence that she had eaten fish, despite living on an island – even though the Vitamin D she would have needed to have avoided rickets would have been plentiful in seafood. For more information: Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Wellcome Images ]]>

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