An assessment of health in post-medieval Ireland: ‘One vast Lazar house filled with famine, disease and death’

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Lynch, Linda G.
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University College Cork
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Three indicators of health and diet were selected to examine the health status in three socioeconomic groups in post-medieval Ireland. The aim was to examine the reliability of traditional skeletal markers of health in highly contextualised populations. The link between socio-economic status and health was examined to determine if traditional linking of poor health with poverty was evident in skeletal samples. The analysis indicated that this was indeed the case and that health was significantly compromised in populations of low socio-economic status. Thus it indicated that status intimately influences the physical body form. Sex was also found to be a major defining factor in the response of an individual to physiological stress. It was also evident that contemporary populations may suffer from different physiological stresses, and their responses to those stresses may differ. Adaptation was a key factor here. This has implications for studies of earlier populations that may lack detailed contextual data in terms of blanket applications of interpretations. The results also show a decline in health from the medieval through to the post-medieval period, which is intimately linked with the immense social changes and all the related effects of these. The socio-economic structure of post-medieval Ireland was a direct result of the British policies in Ireland. The physical form of the Irish may be seen to have occurred as a result of those policies, with the Irish poor in particular suffering substantial health problems, even in contrast to the poor of Britain. This study has enriched the recorded historical narrative of this period of the recent past, and highlights more nuanced narratives may emerge from the osteoarchaeological analysis when sound contextual information is available. It also examines a period in Irish history that, until very recently, had been virtually untouched in terms of archaeological study.
Archaeology , Osteoarchaeology , Human bones , Historic Ireland , Workhouses , Great famine
Lynch, L. G. 2014. An assessment of health in post-medieval Ireland: ‘One vast Lazar house filled with famine, disease and death’. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.