Cranial vault trauma and selective mortality in medieval to early modern Denmark

Jesper L. Boldsen, George R. Milner, Svenja Weise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Scopus citations

Abstract

To date, no estimates of the long-term effect of cranial vault fractures on the risk of dying have been generated from historical or prehistoric skeletons. Excess mortality provides a perspective on the efficacy of modern treatment, as well as the human cost of cranial injuries largely related to interpersonal violence in past populations. Three medieval to early modern Danish skeletal samples are used to estimate the effect of selective mortality on males with cranial vault injuries who survived long enough for bones to heal. The risk of dying for these men was 6.2 times higher than it was for their uninjured counterparts, estimated through a simulation study based on skeletal observations. That is about twice the increased risk of dying experienced by modern people with traumatic brain injuries. The mortality data indicate the initial trauma was probably often accompanied by brain injury. Although the latter cannot be directly observed in skeletal remains, it can be inferred through the relative risks of dying. The ability to identify the effects of selective mortality in this skeletal sample indicates it must be taken into account in paleopathological research. The problem is analogous to extrapolating from death register data to modern communities, so epidemiological studies based on mortality data have the same inherent possibility of biases as analyses of ancient skeletons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1721-1726
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume112
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 10 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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