Home 5 Projects 5 On Going 5 InOsteo – Approach to the Osteological Collection from the Military Hospital of St. George’s Castle (17th – 18th centuries), Lisbon (Duration: 2023-2026)

InOsteo – Approach to the Osteological Collection from the Military Hospital of St. George’s Castle (17th – 18th centuries), Lisbon (Duration: 2023-2026)

Duration: 01.2023 – 01.01.2026

Abstract: This project represents the first study to rely on the articulation of six disciplines (osteology, archaeology, history, chemistry, paleoparasitology, and genomics) to better understand the health of the military in the past and how they were cared for. The results of this research will be an important new asset to historians who study the military, science, medicine, and care offered to diseased people by providing them not only new data to work with but also new methodologies and sampling strategies.
The study of human remains provide a direct window into the life of past populations, specially when combined with other methodologies. The osteological analysis allows to reconstruct the biological (sex, age at death, stature…) and health (diseases, signs of physiological stress…) profile of the individuals and select key skeletons to whom it would
be relevant to perform other types of analysis. Recently, methodologies developed from different fields have been more frequently applied to social sciences such as history. DNA analysis, for example, may identify pathogens responsible for diseases such as plague and influenza, as well as relate a specific disease to vague symptoms descriptions in historical records and ambiguous skeletal lesions. Stable isotopes and trace elements provide information about the people’s diet and possible dietary changes, migrations, and medicament intake. Parasitology can also be effective in reconstructing dietary habits and cooking techniques, additionally to identifying parasites that could affect the individual’s health.
The multidisciplinary team in this project combines various expertise (from natural sciences to humanities) that will work together to achieve the research objectives: 1) Identify parasites and pathogens affecting the soldiers’ health; 2) Relate mass graves to possible epidemics; 3) Identify medication intake and treatments; 4) Better understand hospitals and medical care; 5) Better understand military life.
Knowing that health can be reflected in skeletal indicators of physiological stress and skeletal lesions, this project combines osteological, archaeometric and historic analyses to investigate the relationship between diet, health, and treatments in military hospitals in the 17th and 18th centuries. This study will give a better understanding of medical care in historic periods by providing a direct timeframe difference between before, during and after the disease. It will be possible, for example, to know how mercury was used to treat diseases in Portugal: which diseases were treated this manner and if these treatments were frequent. The study will rely on an osteological collection (made of 947 individuals) associated with the Military Hospital of São Jorge Castle in Lisbon, used from the 17th to the 18th centuries. Historical and archaeological records will be compared with osteological, genetical, chemical, and parasitological data to reconstruct the individual’s life, where they are from, their diet before and after the hospitalization, the diseases and parasites that affected them and the use of substances such as mercury as treatment. Hazard models will be used to assess differences in survivorship and survivor/non-survivor analysis to assess differences in lesion frequency and severity between the different phases of the graveyard. This project follows the research funded by the University of Kent 50th Anniversary Scholarship carried out by the PI. During that project, the PI developed the novel sampling strategy, key for the current project’s success, and became a reference using biochemical analysis to study the synergy between diet, health and metabolism in past populations. The previous research developed by the co-PI, a historian with vast experience studying health and medical care, will allow us to historically frame the data collected from the different disciplines in this project.

Coordinator: Ana Rita Quito Curto

Participants: Sofia Wasterlain (CIAS), Ana Amarante (CIAS), Liliana Matias de Carvalho (CIAS)

Partner institutions: Universidade de Évora, Laboratório HERCULES – Herança Cultural Estudos e Salvaguarda, Centro Interdisciplinar de História, Culturas e Sociedades, Universidade de Coimbra, Centro de Investigação em Antropologia e Saúde, Universidad Complutense de Madrid – Departamento de Medicina Legal, Psiquiatría y Patología, Universidade de Lisboa, Centro de História, Chrono-environment laboratory – Université de Bourgogne Franche-Comté, EON, Indústrias Criativas Ltda

Financial support: Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia

Reference: 2022.03576.PTDC