New and Emerging Prospects for the Paleopathological Study of Starvation


Harris lines
linear enamel hypoplasia
stable isotopes

How to Cite

Simpson , . R. (2020). New and Emerging Prospects for the Paleopathological Study of Starvation: A Critical Review . Pathways, 1(1), 66–83. Retrieved from


Starvation represents a significant contributor to morbidity and mortality, past and present, and is therefore of critical importance to the field of paleopathology. Scholars have previously argued that while critical to understanding past human health, starvation is often not directly observable in skeletal remains. But is this assessment still valid today? In re-evaluating this assessment, this paper discusses new developments in the analysis of (1) the “hunger osteopathies” (osteoporosis with some overlay of osteomalacia), (2) skeletal signs of arrested growth such as Harris lines and Linear Enamel Hypoplasia (LEH), and (3) carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis of skeletal remains. Periods of starvation are known to cause these visible and chemical alterations within skeletal remains, but these phenomena are complex, multi-etiological, and approaches to evaluate them are often fraught with a lack of standardization and specificity. An interdisciplinary approach synthesizing multiple lines of osteological and dental evidence, borrowing anatomical and medical research, and implementing new advancements in computer modeling, imaging modalities, and chemical micro-sampling may theoretically aid in inferring starvation bioarchaeologically.



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