Testing the Utility of Cranial Vault Morphology as an Indicator of Health: A Civil War Sample
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Most historical anthropometric research uses stature as an indication of overall health because of the influence of nutritional intake on a population’s average height (Komlos 1992). Historical American population groups include soldiers, free blacks and slaves, women, and children (Margo and Steckel 1983; Komlos 1987, 1992, 1996, 1998; Fogel 2004; Fogel et al. 1982; Haines 2004; Haines et al. 2003). Auxology, or the scientific study of height, revealed cycles in average height throughout history; in particular, an apparent decline in population stature during the early years of industrialization in Europe and the United States, beginning in the late 18th century in England and the early 19th century in America (Komlos 1996; Haines et al. 2003). The paradoxical decline in health that coincided with a time of economic prosperity in America was labeled the “Antebellum Puzzle” (Komlos 1996; Haines et al. 2003). The term “Antebellum” designates that this period of health decline occurred in the years prior to the American Civil War and generally encompasses the years from the 1830’s to the 1860’s (Komlos 1996; Haines et al. 2003).
The current study tested the utility of cranial vault form as an indicator of population health by utilizing a sample of individuals born during the Antebellum health decline. If cranial vault form is an adequate measure of growth efficiency, the cranial vaults of individuals born during the Antebellum period should exhibit a similar pattern of stunting as found by historical stature research. Additionally, this project attempted to examine the industrialization process in America by synthesizing the stature data used in economic anthropological research with skeletal analyses of craniofacial secular change in American history. The use American Civil War casualties allowed this study to add another biological dimension to analyses of the effects of the early years of industrialization on the population of American white males. Although most Civil War remains are unidentified, research into the context of their recovery along with skeletal aging methods enabled the soldiers to be included into an adequate time series covering the entire industrialization process. This study examined cranial vault morphology, which may be a more sensitive indicator of childhood stress due to the human brain and cranium reaching adult size at a faster rate than stature.