6.4.2 Human Health and Disease

The evidence for human health and disease relies on burial evidence, and it is clear that archaeologists have very fragmentary evidence for the Highlands. Over much of Scotland there is evidence for joint disease (ScARF Bronze Age section 3.5). The Highlands have a number of examples, many of which probably result from heavy manual labour (Table 6.5 below).

Carnach HouseNMale, middle agedJoint disease: SpondyloysisMHG6945; Parker Pearson et al 2019, table 12.1 (Sk 34)
CulduthelIMaleSpinal diseaseScARF Bronze Age panel 3.5; MHG3776
CulduthelIFemale, young adultSchmorl’s nodesMHG3782; Parker Pearson et al 2019, table 12.1 (Sk 37) 
SlacknamarnockIProbable female, older than 45Severe periodontal disease; joint diseaseMHG52994; Troy forthcoming
Fortrose and Rosemarkie Waste Water WorksERProbable female, adultOsteoarthritisMHG60875; Fraser 2014, 65; Case Study Fortrose and Rosemarkie WWW
Dirlot (Dalmore), Halkirk cist 2CMale, young adultSpondyloysisMHG1587;Parker Pearson et al 2019, table 12.1 (Sk 40);
AchavanichCFemale, young adultSchmorl’s nodesMHG13613; Hoole et al 2017; Case Study Ava Bronze Age burial
9 Holdings, StrathnaverSMale, middle-agedImpacted wisdom tooth; degenerative spine changesMHG11052; Parker Pearson et al 2019, table 12.1 (Sk 52)
SpinningdaleSFemale, Middle agedSpinal joint diseaseMHG55420; Arabaolaza 2013; Case Study Spinningdale Mill
Dornoch Bridge QuarrySAdultJoint diseaseYoung et al 2019
Table 6.5 Dated Chalcolithic and Bronze Age human remains with evidence of disease or illness

Dental disease has also been identified in some cases. The female burial at Langwell, Strath Oykel, had dental enamel hypoplasia; a condition which could have been caused by malnutrition, anaemia or high fever (Lelong 2014). The adult female in her 40s buried at West Torbreck, Inverness, had dental disease and infection (Kilpatrick 2014). There is potential for much more information to be obtained about human health and disease from existing human remains, but this has not been gathered together for the Highlands.

Hoole’s (et al 2017) project reinvestigating a Beaker-associated grave discovered in 1987 is a good example of what can be determined from pre-existing data. The DNA analysis showed that the young female was probably local but was descended from recent migrants from continental Europe, possibly from what is now the Netherlands. She was lactose intolerant but with good dental health. The DNA allowed for a more detailed facial reconstruction to be made. This showed that she had dark eyes and hair, skin of similar colour to inhabitants of the modern Mediterranean, and a broad skull. Osteological analysis showed that in childhood and perhaps in the womb she had been ill or malnourished. Her vertebra showed trauma perhaps from carrying heavy loads. Despite all the analyses, we do not know how she died. One clue came from the pollen analysis that showed the presence of sphagnum moss and marsh St John’s wort in the grave. There is a long history of the use of the former for wound dressings, while the latter has been used for medicinal purposes. The amount of important evidence that can be discovered by further analysis of old remains shows the potential for more similar future work, as this new study allowed for Ava to be re-contextualised in her local, regional and national setting (MHG13613; Hoole et al 2017; Case Study Ava Bronze Age Burial).


Case Study: Ava Bronze Age Burial

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