Ageing and disease risk factors: a new paleoepidemiological methodology for understanding disease in the past
To outline a methodology that enables the reconstruction of age-related disease risk in past societies.Modern epidemiological evidence considering risk factors for age-related disease is combined with contextual information about an archaeological society of interest.Data gathered is used to create a qualitative population-specific risk model for the disease of interest. To provide a case study, a risk model is constructed for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in the Eastern English Bronze Age.This enables the first rigorous approach to reconstructing age-related disease risk in the past. A risk model shows a high degree of COPD risk in the Eastern English Bronze Age, with a major contribution from indoor airborne pollution and agricultural practices.This represents a significant new approach in human paleopathology, facilitating understanding of the occurrence of a wide variety of diseases in the past, without the need for well-preserved skeletons of identified elderly individuals.The risk models generated are, of necessity, qualitative rather than quantitative, since we are unable to calculate the size of risk factors in the past with certainty.The methodology could be applied to a wide variety of diseases and for many past societies.
CitationJo Appleby, Ageing and disease risk factors: A new paleoepidemiological methodology for understanding disease in the past, International Journal of Paleopathology, Volume 44, 2024, Pages 33-45, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpp.2023.11.004
Author affiliationSchool of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester
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