Case Study: Health in Medieval Scotland

Figure 20: Cervical vertebrae from an 8 year old child with tuberculosis.  This child was most likely brought to the Isle of May with a parent for a chance to be cured © Marlo Willows.

Figure 20: Cervical vertebrae from an 8 year old child with tuberculosis. This child was most likely brought to the Isle of May with a parent for a chance to be cured © Marlo Willows.

The health of populations in medieval Scotland is being addressed by Marlo Willows in a doctoral study at Edinburgh University.  Comparisons between four study populations help to reveal patterns of health, trauma, and disease in rural, urban, lay, and monastic areas.  These populations are compared to other British sites in order to better understand the health status of medieval Scotland.  The analysis addresses questions regarding the lifestyle of people living in medieval Scotland:  Did these individuals lead violent or non-violent lives?  What was their diet and did it lead to nutritional deficiencies?  How prevalent was disease and which types of diseases were most prevalent?  Were individuals in medieval Scotland more or less healthy than at other periods in Scotland?
 
One of the study populations is located at a Benedictine priory founded in the 12th century, and most known for religious pilgrimage, on the Isle of May (Roberts and Battley, 2008).  The skeletal analysis found significantly higher percentages of infectious disease, trauma, metabolic disease, joint disease, and other pathological conditions.  The skeletal and statistical analysis leads to the conclusion that some individuals buried on the Isle of May were not part of the monastic community; rather they travelled to the island for the purpose of healing. The burials linked to this healing tradition predate the monastery foundation; therefore the tradition is likely connected to earlier Celtic or even pagan traditions.  

 

The completed thesis 'Health status in Lowland Medieval Scotland: a regional analysis of four skeletal populations' is now available here (July 2018) 


Return to Section 3.4 Demography

 

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