Exploring poverty: Skeletal biology and documentary evidence in 19th-20th century Portugal

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Background: The inference of the state of wealth or poverty from human skeletal remains is a difficult task, as the limited number of skeletal changes are mediated by numerous other physiological, biomechanical and pathological events. In recent years, identified skeletal collections have become valuable resources in enabling aetiologies of these changes to be understood while controlling for some known causative factors, e.g. age, sex and occupation. This has favoured more rigorous data analysis and interpretation.Aim: This study compares the presence of osteological makers of occupation-specifically degenerative joint changes (DJC)-between socio-economically framed occupational groups whilst controlling for age-at-death.Materials and methods: A total of 603 individuals were distributed into seven occupational groups used as a proxy for their socio-economic status.Results: The results demonstrated that age was a contributing factor for DJC. Differences between occupational groups were only found for the hips, right shoulder and ankle.Conclusions: Differences found were not necessarily representative of low vs high socio-economic status. Furthermore, there are limitations associated with the use of occupation-at-death, based on documentary evidence, which does not necessarily reflect wealth-status.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)102-106
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals Of Human Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2016


  • Degenerative joint changes
  • Identified collections
  • Occupation
  • Skeletons
  • Socio-economic status


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