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A community in transition: Analysis of health and well‐being in people living during and following aridification

Caine, Alyson C. and Roberts, Charlotte A. and Kennet, Derek (2022) 'A community in transition: Analysis of health and well‐being in people living during and following aridification.', International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 32 (5). pp. 1082-1095.


This paper considers skeletal and dental lesions to assess the effects of aridification on two skeletal samples from the Bronze Age in what is now the United Arab Emirates (UAE), located on the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula. This paper hypothesized that the sample from Qarn al-Harf (QAH) Tomb 6 would show a greater prevalence of skeletal and dental lesions in comparison with that from QAH Tomb 5, because QAH Tomb 6 dates to a period of aridification when compared with the wetter Wadi Suq period (~2000 B.C.). The skeletal remains from two tombs from QAH cemetery are studied: one dated to the transition period from the Umm an-Nar to Wadi Suq period (~2000 B.C.) (Tomb 6, n = 141) and one Wadi Suq period tomb (Tomb 5, n = 44; 2000–1600 B.C.). Skeletal and dental lesions, including carious lesions, antemortem tooth loss, dental enamel hypoplasia, periosteal new bone formation, cribra orbitalia, and porotic hyperostosis, were recorded and used to assess differential lived experience. Findings from the two tombs are compared with five contemporary sites of the Umm an-Nar and Wadi Suq periods. Fisher's exact tests found more statistically significant differences in the prevalence of cribra orbitalia (p = 0.0050) and non-adult mortality (p = 0.0118) for the QAH Tomb 6 skeletal sample than that from QAH Tomb 5. No other skeletal or dental lesions were significantly different according to Fisher's exact tests. While not significant, periosteal new bone formation rates in QAH 6 in conjunction with cribra orbitalia rates suggest individuals were experiencing stressors that were not impacting QAH Tomb 5 individuals. Skeletal and dental lesion rates are not directly attributable to climate change; however, we argue that intense aridification around 2000 B.C. caused desiccated crops and an increased reliance on marine sources for QAH Tomb 6. This reliance likely promoted nutritionally deficient diets manifesting as observed higher rates of cribra orbitalia and periosteal new bone formation.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 10 June 2023.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Date accepted:03 June 2022
Date deposited:12 August 2022
Date of first online publication:10 June 2022
Date first made open access:10 June 2023

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