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Prevalence and Etiology of Acquired Anemia in Medieval York, England


Sullivan, Amy (2005). Prevalence and Etiology of Acquired Anemia in Medieval York, England. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 128(2), 252-272.


This paper presents three distinct models for the development of acquired anemia: iron-deficiency anemia produced by the inadequate intake and/or absorption of iron, the anemia of chronic disease (ACD) caused by the body's natural iron-withholding defense against microbial invaders, and megaloblastic anemia caused by insufficient intake and/or absorption of vitamin B12 or folic acid. These etiological models are used to interpret the distribution and etiology of anemia among adult individuals interred at the Medieval Gilbertine Priory of St. Andrew, Fishergate, York (n = 147). This bioarchaeological analysis uncovered not only a strong relationship between decreasing status and increasing prevalence of anemia for both men and women, but also identified clear sex-based differences at this site. Within the high-status group, blood and iron loss as a result of rampant parasitism likely produced an environment ripe for the development of iron-deficiency anemia, while the parasitic consumption of vitamin B12 may have caused occasional cases of megaloblastic anemia. As status decreases, the interpretation of anemia becomes more complex, with megaloblastic anemia and ACD emerging as viable, potentially heavy contributors to the anemia experiences of low-status people at St. Andrew's. Apart from status effects, women (especially young women) are disproportionately affected by anemia when compared to men within their own status group and, on average, are also more likely to have experienced anemia than their male peers from other status groups. This suggests that high iron-demand reproductive functions helped to make iron-deficiency anemia a chronic condition in many women's lives irrespective of their status affiliation.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

American Journal of Physical Anthropology


Sullivan, Amy