(University of Manchester, UK)
Keywords: Osteology, Burial, Demography, Archives
The rate of loss of human bone in burial contexts is a topic which is of interest to archaeologists and forensic scientists alike. In excavated cemeteries it is frequently contended that large portions of the initial burial population, especially children, are rapidly lost through taphonomic processes. Burial records are one under-utilized means of assessing this attrition in cemetery populations. Such records provide a glimpse into the health risks of the population and furnish an initial mortality estimate, which allows for the study of taphonomic loss. Three excavated historic period cemeteries (St. Benet Sherehog, London N=187; Alameda Stone, Tucson N=1166; and the Voegtly Cemetery, Pittsburgh N=555) were compared to associated parish burial records (St. Benet Sherehog N=1513; San Agustin N=5099; and Voegtly Church N=806). The resulting mortality profiles were fitted against Model West life tables. Though very demographically different from one another, all cemetery records demonstrated plausible infant (0 – 1.9 year-old) mortality rates, ranging from a relatively high 52% to a moderate 21%. Mortality estimates derived from the osteological evidence in this age category were consistently 5 – 7% lower than those obtained from burial records for the same cemetery. The absolute loss of individuals varied markedly between samples. However, it was found to be quite similar across age groups within each cemetery, with attrition in the infant category only 3 – 14% greater than losses among adults.