The teeth of adults also give very special information about malnutrition and disease that occurred during their childhoods when the dental crown develops, several decades prior to death. Our comparative research on the record of childhood health in the teeth of adults shows that nineteenth-century African American adults from other archeological sites had among the highest frequencies of developmental defects of any observed human population. In South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland plantations, as well as in Philadelphia, dental developmental defects occurred in about eighty-five to ninety percent of the population on average. Little more than one-half as many adults in New York (fifty percent) show evidence of childhood malnutrition and disease when compared to these later African-American samples. We suspect this difference is due to the fact that a large percentage of the eighteenth-century population had spent their childhoods in African societies, suggesting that African societies provided a higher physical quality of life than did American slavery. As we showed above, the health of those who died as children in New York, nearly all of whom would have been born and raised under the conditions of slavery, were very highly stressed. Adults show a peak in mortality during the fourth decade of life.
     Our historians are showing that enslaved Africans in colonial New York City were engaged in a diversity of occupations that included skilled crafts, but tended more often to involve arduous labor as mariners, stevedores, porters, and domestic workers. They also worked in farming, clearing land, construction, mining, ferrying, and just about every form of physical labor involved in the building and maintenance of the colony. Our biological data shows that the strains of load bearing and other physical labor usually stressed their musculoskeletal systems to the margins of human capacity and often even beyond that capacity.
     Muscle attachments become enlarged when muscles undergo frequent strain. Most of the population of men and women have enlarged muscle attachments in the neck, arms, and legs. It has become commonplace for our technicians to find women's bones that are so robust as to be indistinguishable from those of men. Were it not for the presence of more specific indicators of sex, many of the women's skeletons would have been misidentified as men's skeletons.
     When muscles undergo strain beyond the capacity of their bony attachments to anchor them, muscles tears will occur at the attachments, creating deep bone lesions and calcified connective tissue. The majority of both men and women from the African Burial Ground exhibit such effects of excessive strain, most frequently involving the muscles -- pectoralis major in the upper arm, brachialis in the lower arm, and the adductor muscles along the linea aspera at the back of the thigh. These muscles are involved in heavy, power lifting, in addition to many other muscular tasks.


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August 2000