Interpreting the oral condition in medieval European populations from a bioarchaeological perspective

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Katie Zejdlik
Jonathan D. Bethard
Zsolt Nyárádi
Andre Gonciar


Interpretation of dental ‘health’ in archaeologically derived skeletal assemblages is challenging due to the lack of patient histories, clearly understood pathological processes, broad etiologies, and cultural perceptions of health. Furthermore, the language used in description of pathological conditions of the oral cavity condition is not consistent across researchers thereby resulting in challenging cross-site comparison. Standardization of terms and description is necessary as proposed by Pilloud and Fancher (2018). This paper demonstrates the challenges associated with cross-site comparisons through an attempt to place medieval Transylvanian Székely peoples’ oral status within a larger medieval cultural and biological framework. To do this, first, a review of medieval perceptions of dental health and treatment is provided. Next, a total of 90 individuals recovered from two medieval Székely cemeteries were analyzed for age, sex, and pathological conditions of the oral cavity. The results of the analysis were then compared to other medieval skeletal assemblages reporting on dental ‘health’. Finally, a discussion of how the Székely compare to other medieval sites and the challenges faced are presented thus supporting Pilloud and Fancher’s (2018) call for standardization.


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