Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-1 (May 2009)E. Smits; J. van der Plicht: Mesolithic and Neolithic human remains in the Netherlands: physical anthropological and stable isotope investigations
5 Physical anthropology: demography and health

5.2 Health

Skeletal remains can reveal some aspects of a person’s health, but only some, as especially chronic diseases can lead to bone alterations, in contrast to short-term ones. The cause of death is rarely detectable from the skeleton. Pathological bone changes can be associated with a wide variety of phenomena such as bad health, hard physical labour and infectious diseases. Preservation will also affect the possibilities for observation; for instance, if spongy skeletal parts like the vertebral column and the joints of the appendicular skeleton are badly preserved no information on physical stress can be recorded.

At Polderweg pathological bone changes were not present. The preservation of the skeletons at Urk made any observations impossible. Swifterbant offers slightly better circumstances, some pathologies of a diverse nature were observed there, three of which involved peripheral arthritis. The population from Ypenburg appears to be best suited for the study of health. Enamel hypoplasia, a condition associated with spells of bad health during childhood (Hillson & Bond 1997), was observed in six cases there. Degeneration of the spine and peripheral joints (vertebral osteoarthritis and peripheral osteoarthritis) is the main feature present in the populations of Schipluiden (4 individuals) and Ypenburg (14 individuals). At both Schipluiden and De Bruin one incidence of trauma of a violent nature was recorded. This is probably the tip of the iceberg as lesions to the soft tissues like the organs cannot be studied. Dental pathology, especially caries, which is generally associated with diets rich in carbohydrates (Hillson 1979), was not observed in any of our populations. This may, however, be obscured in cases of heavy attrition of the teeth.[5]

The pathological features are on the whole inconclusive for the general health status, but the observations of those individuals that endured hard physical labour give at least an impression of the heavy daily workload corresponding to an agricultural way of life.