Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dr. Shelley Saunders


A palaeopathological analysis of skeletal samples representing pre- and post-contact Alaskan Eskimos and Aleuts was conducted in order to 1) assess the pre-contact health of these groups; 2) investigate possible differences between the Eskimos and Aleuts in patterns of health and disease; 3) examine temporal changes in health; and 4) assess the biological effects of European contact on these populations.

The results obtained in the present study reveal that the Alaskan Eskimos and Aleuts suffered from a variety of health problems prior to contact, including iron deficiency anemia, fractures, non-specific infections, dental pathology, and congenital malformations. The data also suggest that the Eskimos and Aleuts had different patterns of health and disease prior to contact. Most notably, the Aleuts has significantly more cranial and overall trauma, and infracranial and overall infection than the Eskimos, while Eskimos had significantly more enamel hypolasia of the canines and lateral incisors than the Aleuts. Differences between these groups in their environment, warfare practices, housing, and subsistence pursuits may underlie this variability.

The skeletal data provide some evidence of declining health following contact, at least among the Aleuts. The introduction of new pathogens, particularly treponemal infection, likely contributed to the significantly higher frequencies of cranial infection and cribra orbitalia in the post-contact Aleut sample compared to the pre-contact sample. The post-contact Eskimo sample showed little evidence of declining health over time; however, historical accounts of epidemics and population decline clearly attest to the deleterious effects of contact on this population.

The present study illustrates the value of palaeopathology in providing insight into the health of the Alaskan Eskimos and Aleuts both prior to, and following contact. The valuable contributions of other sources of information, such as ethnohistory and epidemiology, are also recognized.

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