Investigating dietary patterns and organisational structure by using stable isotope analysis: a pilot study of the Danish medieval leprosy hospital at Næstved

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  • Anastasia Brozou
  • Niels Lynnerup, Department of Forensic Medicine, University of Copenhagen
  • ,
  • Marcello A Mannino
  • Andrew R Millard, Department of Archaeology, Durham University, United Kingdom.
  • ,
  • Darren R Gröcke, Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University, United Kingdom.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, numerous leprosy hospitals were founded in Europe. Given that leprosy was not considered infectious, this may reflect social dimensions of the disease. Aiming at exploring the impact of leprosy on medieval people and the organisation of the Danish leprosarium at Næstved, we reconstructed the diet of twenty patients using stable isotopes, and compared our results with relevant historical data. The isotope results revealed a terrestrial C3 diet with a small contribution of aquatic foods. Contrary to historical evidence of daily fish consumption in the leprosy hospital, only six individuals consumed relatively large amounts of freshwater fish. Leprosaria have been considered monastic institutions, and thus a varied diet, poor in aquatic protein, questions the monastic nature of the hospital and points to a social stratification. A multi-isotope analysis of a larger sample set would add to our understanding of the diet of the leprosy patients, as well as their treatment in the leprosarium.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnthropologischer Anzeiger
ISSN0003-5548
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Apr 2019

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