Using dental and activity indicators in order to explore possible sex differences in an adult rural medieval population from Thebes (Greece)

Open access


Assessing the subsistence strategies of past populations; through their dietary and occupational patterns; could provide important information regarding social status and possible gender differences, especially in turbulent historical periods, as the one of the Crusader’s occupation in Greece (1204-1460 AD). Therefore, the human sample from Aghia Triada in Thebes (13th-14th c. AD) serves as the ideal skeletal material. Diet was explored through two dental indicators; dental caries and tooth wear, while occupational stress was explored through three activity markers; osteoarthritis (OA), spinal facet remodeling and Schmorl’s nodes. The aims of the present study are to assess the dietary and activity patterns of the stated population and explore possible sex differentiations. A total of 126 teeth and 350 vertebrae have been examined. The entire population presents a caries rate of 16.7%, and males present a much higher caries frequency than females (25.5% males vs. 9.9% females). Furthermore, females present significantly higher rates of osteophytes than males, whereas no significant sex differences were found regarding facet remodeling and Schmorl’s nodes. Dental results confirm historical information of medieval Thebes having an agricultural economy and are also in agreement with isotopic data. In addition, our findings suggest very intense physical activity for both sexes, whereas the distribution of facet remodeling along the spine could indicate a possible gender division of labor. Our study proposes two positive correlations; between facet remodeling and osteophytes, and between Schmorl’s nodes and facet remodelling; as activity indicators in past or/and modern populations. Finally, we strongly encourage the inclusion of spinal facet remodelling in studies focusing on occupational stress.

Aberth J. 2005. The Black Death: the Great Mortality of 1348-1350. New York: Bedford/ St. Martin’s.

Anderson JE. 1965. Human skeleton of Tehuacan. Science 148:496-7.

Angel JL, Kelly JO, Parrington M, Pinter S. 1987. Life stresses of the free black community as represented by the First African Baptist Church, Philadelphia, 1823-1841. Am J Phys Anthropol 74:213-29.

Archaeological Museum of Thebes, The period of Western Rule. Available at:

Baker BJ. 1997. Contributions of biological anthropology to the understanding of Ancient Egyptian and Nubian societies. In: J Lustig, editor. Anthropology and egyptology: A developing dialoque. Monographs in Mediterranean Archaeology 8. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 106-16.

Bass WM. 1987. Human Osteology: A laboratory and Field Manual of the Human Skeleton, (3rd ed). Special publication No 2. Columbia: Missouri Archaeological Society.

Bergink AP, van Meurs JB, Loughin J, Arp PP, Fang Y, Hofman A, et al. 2003. Estrogen receptor a gene halotype is associated with radiographic osteoarthritis of the knee in elderly men and women. Arthritis Rheumatol 48:1913-22.

Bourbou, C. 2006. Infectious Conditions Observed on Greek Proto-Byzantine (6th-7th Centuries A.D.) and Middle-Byzantine (11th century A.D.) Skeletal Series. In: L Buchet, C Dauphin, and I Seguy, editors. La paleodemographie. Memoire d’os, memoire d’hommes. Actes des 8 Journees Anthropologiques de Valbonne. Antibes. 85-99.

Bourbou C, Richards MP. 2007. The Middle-Byzantine menu: stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values from the Greek site of Kastella, Crete. Int J Osteoarchaeol 17:63-72.

Bourbou C. 2009. Patterns of trauma in a medieval urban population (11th century A.D.) from central Crete (Greece). In: LA Schepartz, SC Fox, and C Bourbou, editors. New directions in the skeletal biology of Greece. Princeton: Occasional Wiener Laboratory Series vol. 1. Hesperia Supplement vol. 43:111-20.

Bourbou C. 2013. Are we what we eat? Reconstructing dietary patterns in Greek Byzantine populations (7th-13th centuries AD) through a multi-disciplinary approach. In: S Voutsaki, and SM Valamoti, editors. Diet, economy and society in the ancient Greek world. Towards a better integration of archaeology and science. Proceedings of the International Conference held at the Netherlands Institute at Athens on 22-24 March 2010 Pharos. Supplement 1. Peeters Publishers.

Bridges PS. 1994. Vertebral arthritis and physical activities in the prehistoric southeastern United States. Am J Phys Anthropol 93:83-93.

Buikstra JE, Ubelaker D. 1994. standards for data collection from human skeletal remains, Arkansas. Archaeological Survey Research Series No 44. Arkansas Archaeological Survey: Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Byers SN. 2005. Introduction to forensic Anthropology: A Textbook. London: Pearson.

Caglar E, Kuscu OO, Sandalli N, Ari I. 2007. Prevalence of dental caries and tooth wear in a Byzantine population (13th c. A.D.) from northwest Turkey. Arch Oral Biol 52:1136-45.

Chrone-Vakalopoulos M, Vakalopoulos A. 2008. Fishes and otheraquatic species in Byzantine literature. Classification, terminology and scientific names. Byz Symp 18:123-57.

Coughlan J, Holst M. 2000. Health status. In: V Fiorato, A Boylston, and C Knusel, editors. Blood Red Roses: The archaeology of a mass grave from the battle of Towton AD 1461. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 60-76.

Dagron G. 1995. Poissons, pecheurs et poissonniers de Constantinople. In: C Mango, and G Dagron, editors. Constantinople and its hinterland. Ashgate: Aldershot. 57-73.

Dalby A. 1996. siren feasts: a history of food and gastronomy in Greece. London: Routledge.

Dalby A. 2003. Flavours of Byzantium: the cuisine of a legendary empire. Devon: Prospect.

Detienne M. 1989. The violence of wellborn ladies: Women in the Thesmophoria. In: M Detienne, and JP Vernant, editors. The Cuisine of sacrifice among the Greeks, 129- 147. Translated by P. Wissing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

d’ Incau E, Rouas P. 2003. Dental and skeletal relationships to attritional occlusion. J Dent Res 82 (Special Issue B):164.

Djuric-Srejic M. 2001. Dental paleopathology in a Serbian mediaval population. Anthropol Anz 59:113-22.

Eideneier H. 1991. Ptochoprodromos: Einführung, kritische Ausgabe, deutsche Übersetzung, Glossar. Ko¨ln: Romiosini.

Esclassan R, Grimoud AM, Ruas MP, Donat R, Sevin A, Astie F, et al. 2009. Dental caries, tooth wear and diet in an adult medieval (12th-14th century) population from mediterranean France. Arch Oral Biol 54:287-97.

Eshed V, Gopher A, Hershkovitz I. 2006. Tooth wear and dental pathology at the advent of agriculture: new evidence from the Levant. Am J Phys Anthropol 130:145-59.

Faccia KJ, Williams RC. 2008. Schmorl’s nodes: clinical significance and implications for the bioarchaeological record. Int J Osteoarchaeol 18:28-44.

Galani-Krikou M. 1997. Thiva: 10th-14th aionas. I nomismatiki martyria apo tin Aghia Triada.

Galloway JH. 1977. The Mediterranean sugar industry. Geogr Rev 67:177-94.

Garnsey P. 1999. Food and society in classical antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Garvie-Lok SJ. 2001. Loaves and fishes: a stable isotope reconstruction of diet in Medieval Greece. PhD Dissertation. Calgary: University of Calgary.

Hillson SW. 1996. Dental anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hillson SW. 2001. Recording dental caries in archaeological human remains. Int J Osteoarchaeol 11:249-89.

Hillson SW. 2008. Dental Pathology. In: MA Katzenberg, and SR Saunders, editors. Biological anthropology of the human skeleton. New Jersey: Wiley-Liss. 301-40.

Hinton RJ. 1981. Form and patterning of tooth wear among aboriginal human groups. Am J Phys Anthropol. 54:555-64.

Jurmain R. 1990. Paleoepidemiology of a central California prehistoric population from CA-ALA-329: II Degenerative disease. Am J Phys Anthropol 83:83-94.

Kazhdan A. 1997. The peasantry: In G Cavallo, editor. The Byzantines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 43-73.

Kennedy KAR. 1984. Growth, nutrition and pathology in changing paleodemographic settings in South Asia. In: MN Cohen, GJ Armelagos, editors. Paleopathology at the origins of agriculture. New York: Academic Press. 169-92.

Kennedy KAR. 1989. Skeletal markers of occupational stress. In: MY Iscan, and KAR

Kennedy, editors. Reconstruction of life from the skeleton. New York: Alan R. Liss.129-60.

Kilgore L. 1984. Degenerative joint disease in a medieval Nubian population. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.

Knusel, C. 2000. Activity-related skeletal change. In: V. Fiorato, A. Boylston., C.

Knusel, editors. Blood Red Roses: The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from the Battle of Towton AD 1461, Oxbow Books: Oxford, 103-118.

Koder J. 2005. I kathimerini diatrofi sto Byzantio me vasi tis piges. In: D. Papanikola-Bakirtzi, editor. Proceedings of the Symposium on food in Byzantium, Athens: Hellenic Ministry of Culture. 17-30.

Laine MA. 2002. Effect of pregnancy on periodontal and dental health. Acta Odontol Scand 60:257-64.

Lanfranco LP, Eggers S. 2010. The usefulness of caries frequency, depth, and location in determining cariogenicity and past subsistence: A test on early and later agriculturalists from the Peruvian Coast. Am J Phys Anthropol 143:75-91.

Larsen CS, Shavit R, Griffin MC. 1991. Dental caries evidence for dietary change: An archaeological context. In: MA Kelley, and CS Larsen, editors. Advances in dental anthropology. New York: Wiley-Liss. 179-202.

Larsen CS. 1997. Bioarchaeology, interpreting behavior from the human skeleton. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Laurioux B. 2002. Manger au Moyen-Age. Hachette Litterature Ed. Paris. 176.

Lingstro P, van Houte J, Kashket S. 2000. Food starches and dental caries. Crit Rev Oral Biol Med 11:366-80.

Littleton J, Frohlich B. 1993. Fish-eaters and farmers: dental pathology in the Arabian Gulf. Am J Phys Anthropol 92:427-47.

Lovell NC. 1994. Spinal arthritis and physical stress at Bronze Age Harappa. Am J Phys Anthropol 93:149-64.

Lubell D, Jackes M, Schwarcz H, Knyf M, Meiklejohn C. 1994. The Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Portugal: isotopic and dental evidence of diet. J Archaeol Sci 21:201-16.

Lukacs JR. 1996. Sex differences in dental caries rates with the origin of agriculture in South Asia. Curr Anthropol 37:147-53.

Maat G, Van der Velde E. 1987. The caries attrition competition. Int J Anthropol 2:281-92.

Maat GJR, Mastwijk RW, Van Der EA. 1995. Skeletal distribution of degenerative changes in vertebral osteophytosis, vertebral osteoarthritis and DISH. Int J Osteoarchaeol 5:289-98.

Maniatis G. 2000. The organizational setup and functioning of the fish market in tenth-century Constantinople. DOP 54:13-42.

Manji F, Fejerskov O, Baelum V, Luan WM, Chen X. 1991. The epidemiological features of dental caries in African and Chinese populations: implications for risk assessment. In: NW Johnson, editor. Dental caries: markers of high and low risk groups and individuals. risk markers for oral diseases, vol.1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 62-99.

Manzon VS, Gualdi-Russo E. 2016. Health patterns of the Etruscan population (6th-3rd centuries B.C.) in northern Italy: the case of Spina. Int J Osteoarchaeol 26(3):490-501.

Matthaiou A. 1997. Aspects de I ‘alimentation en Grece sous la domination ottomane. Studien zur Geschichte Siidosteuropas 14. Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main.

Merbs CF. 1983. patterns of activity-induced pathology in a Canadian Inuit Population. archaeological survey of Canada paper, No 119. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada.

Metress JF, Conway T. 1975. standardized system for recording dental caries in prehistoric skeletons. J Dent Res 54:908.

Michael DE, Eliopoulos C, Manolis SK. 2017. Exploring sex differences in diets and activity patterns through dental and skeletal studies in populations from ancient Corinth, Greece. HOMO 68:378-92.

Miles AEW. 1989. An early Christian chapel and burial ground on the Isle of Ensay, Outer Hebrides, Scotland with a study of the skeletal remains. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports British. Series 212.

Miller William 1908. The Latins in the Levant: A history of Frankish Greece (1204-1566). New York: E. P. Dutton and Company.

Molnar S. 1971. Human tooth wear, tooth function and cultural variability. Am J Phys Anthropol 34:175-90.

Motsias X. 1998. ‘What did the people in Byzantium ate? Ed. Kaktos, Athens (in Greek).

Nicholas A, Louvaris J. 2005. Fast and abstinence in Byzantium. In: W Mayer, and S Trzcionka, editors. Feast, fast or famine. Food and drink in Byzantium. Brisbane: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies. 189-198.

Parrington M, Roberts DG. 1990. Demographic cultural and bioanthropological aspects of a nineteenth century free black population in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In: AJ Lawrence, and JE Buikstra, editors. A Life in Science: Papers in Honor of J. Lawrence Angel. Center for American Archaeolog Scientific Papers. Illinois. 138-70.

Parry K. 2005. Vegetarianism in Late antiquity and Byzantium: the transmission of a regimen. In: W Mayer, and S Trzcionka, editors. Feast, fast or famine. Food and drink in Byzantium. Brisbane: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies. 171-87.

Pastor R. 1992. Dietary adaptations and dental microwear in Mesolithic and Chalcolithic South Asia. J Hum Ecol [Special Issue] 2:215-28.

Rathbun TA. 1987. Health and disease at a South Carolina plantation: 1840-1870. Am J Phys Anthropol 74:239-53.

Resnick D, Niwayama G. 1978. Intravertebral disk herniations cartilaginous (Schmorl’s) nodes. Radiology 126:7-65.

Rogers J, Waldron T, Dieppe P, Watt I. 1987. arthropathies in paleopathology: the basis of classification according to most probable cause. J Archaeol Sci. 14:179-93.

Rubin CT, McLeod KJ, Bain SD. 1990. Functional strains and cortical bone adaptation: epigenetic assurance of skeletal integrity. J Biomech 23:43-54.

Sambrook PN, MacGregor AJ, Spector TD. 1999. Genetic influences on cervical and lumbar disc degeneration: a magnetic resonance imaging study in twins. Arthritis Rheum 50:805-10.

Schollmeyer K, Turner C. 2004. Dental caries, prehistoric diet, and the pithouse to Pueblo transition in Southwestern Colorado. Am Antiquity 69:569-82.

Schmorl G. 1926. Die pathologische Anatomie der Wirbelsaule. Verhandlungen der Deutschen Orthopadischen Gesellschaft 21:3-41.

Schmorl G, Junghanns H. 1959. The Human spine in health and disease. New York: Grune and Stratton.

Schmorl G, Junghanns H. 1971. The human spine in health and disease, 2nd edition. New York: Grune and Stratton.

Scott EC. 1979. Dental wear scoring technique. Am J Phys Anthropol 51:213-18.

Shore LR. 1935. On osteoarthritis in the dorsal invertebral joints. Brit J Surg 22:833-49.

Smith BH. 1984. Patterns of molar wear in hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists. Am J Phys Anthropol 63:39-56.

Sofaer-Derevenski JR. 2000. sex differences in activity-related osseous change in the spine and the gendered division of labor at Ensay and Wharram Percy, UK. Am J Phys Anthropol 111:333-54.

Solano M. 2002. Activity related pathology in the Albany county almshouse cemetery, Albany, NY. Am J Phys Anthropol 34S:145.

Spector TD, MacGregor AJ. 2004. Risk factors for osteoarthritis: genetics. Osteoarthr Cartilage 12:S39-S44.

Steward TD. 1979. Patterning of skeletal pathologies and epidemiology. In: WS Laughlin, and AB Harper, editors. The first Americans: origins, affinities, and adaprations. New York: Gustav Fischer. 257-274.

Storey R. 1992. Preindustrial urban lifestyle and health. In: R Huss-Ashmore, J Schall, and M Hediger, editors. Health and lifestyle change. MASCA Research Papers in Science and Archaeology. Philadelphia: MASCA, the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania. 33-42.

Teall JL. 1959. The grain supply of the Byzantine Empire. Dumbarton Oaks Papers 13:87-140.

Thylstrup A, Fejerskov O. 1994. Textbook of Clinical Cariology. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.

Tsevas D. Georgios 2006. History of Thebes and Boeotia: From ancient years to the present. Vol. B, Chap. I, Cultural Centre of the Municipality of Thebes.

Turner C. 1978. Dental caries and early ecuadorian agriculture. Am Antiquity 43:694-97.

Turner C. 1979. Dental anthropological indications of agriculture among the Jomon people of central Japan. Am J Phys Anthropol 51:619-36.

Varrela TM. 1991. Prevalence and distribution of dental caries in a late medieval population in Finland. Arch Oral Biol 36:553-59.

Vodanovic M, Brkic H, Slaus M, Demo Z. 2005. The frequency and distribution of caries in the medieval population of Bijelo Brdo in Croatia (10th-11th century). Arch Oral Biol 50:669-80.

Waldron, T. 1997. Osteoarthritis of the hip in past populations. Int J Osteoarchaeol 7:186-9.

Walker PL, Hewlett BS. 1990. Dental health and social status among Central African foragers and farmers. Am Anthropol 92:382-98.

Watt ME, Lunt DA, Gilmour WH. 1997. Caries prevalence in the permanent dentition of a medieval population from the southwest of Scotland. Arch Oral Biol 42:603-20.

Weiss E. 2005. Understanding osteoarthritis patterns: an examination of aggregate osteoarthritis. J Paleopathol 16:88-98.

Weiss E. 2006. Osteoarthritis and body mass. J Archaeol Sci 33:690-5.

Weiss E, Jurmain R. 2007. Osteoarthritis revisited: a contemporary review of aetiology. Int J Osteoarchaeol 17:437-50.

Wilson MG, Michet CJ, IIIstrup DM, Melton LJ. 1990. Idiopathic symptomatic osteoarthritis of the hip and knee: a population- based incidence study. Mayo Clin Proc. 65:1214-21.

Anthropological Review

The Journal of Polish Anthropological Society

Journal Information

CiteScore 2017: 0.70

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.282
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 0.439


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 228 228 21
PDF Downloads 108 108 12