Original paper

The possible correlation between dental enamel hypoplasia and a historic natural disaster in the Roman population of Herculaneum (79 AD ? central Italy)

D'Anastasio, R.; Cesana, D. T.; Viciano, J.; Sciubba, M.; Nibaruta, P.; Capasso, L.

Anthropologischer Anzeiger Volume 70 No. 4 (2013), p. 369 - 383

published: Dec 1, 2013

DOI: 10.1127/0003-5548/2013/0312

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Abstract

Dental enamel hypoplasia is usually read as a sign of a systematic growth disturbance during childhood. Following the analysis of human teeth from Herculaneum (79 AD, Central Italy), the authors focused on linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH) manifestations in order to delineate a possible correlation between their frequency and distribution and the earthquake that occurred in 62 AD, which is well documented in historical literature. The human remains from Herculaneum were buried at the same time as the Vesuvius eruption and represent an exceptional snapshot of life in the Roman Imperial Age. The Goodman and Rose method (1990) was used for attributing an "age at the moment of stress" for every skeleton in order to delineate the epidemiology of the enamel hypoplasia. When LEH frequency was analysed by age, two different age groups showed relevant patterns of hypoplasia: the first peak was evident in individuals between 14 and 20 years who were younger than 6 years at the time of the 62 AD earthquake, and a second peak was noted in adults of 30 ± 5 years old, which suggests the presence of another stressful event that occurred 10 years before the earthquake, around 53 AD. The bimodal distribution of enamel hypoplasia could be the consequence of two different historical periods characterized by instability in the food supply, unhygienic conditions, and epidemic episodes; our data suggest that the first peak could be related to a decline in health status as an effect of the 62 AD earthquake. The relationship between recent natural disasters and variations in health status in modern populations is well documented in scientific literature. Our research represents the first attempt to correlate the status of health to an earthquake of known date in an archaeological population.

Keywords

dental anthropologyearthquakepaleoepidemiologyroman age