Möller-Barlow disease in archaeology: Preliminary study of biochemical detection

Kramis, Simon; Trancik Petitpierre, Viera; Cooper, Christine; Lösch, Sandra (August 2014). Möller-Barlow disease in archaeology: Preliminary study of biochemical detection (Unpublished). In: The 20th European Meeting of the Paleopathology Association. Lund, Schweden. 24.-29.08.2014.

Human bone is the most direct source for reconstructing health and living conditions of ancient populations. However, many diseases remain undetected in palaeopathology. Möller-Barlow disease (scurvy) is a historically well-documented metabolic disease and must have been common in clinical and sub-clinical severity. Due to long incubation periods and the subtle nature of bone changes osteological evidence is relatively rare (Brickley & Ives 2008).
Möller-Barlow disease is caused by deficiency of dietary vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and evokes symptoms like fatigue, haemorrhage, inflammations, delayed wound healing and pain. Vitamin C is a cofactor for the hydroxylation of the amino acids proline and lysine which are essential for the production of intact connective tissue by cross-linking the propeptides in collagen.
In a preliminary study we tested the detectability of Möller-Barlow disease by analysis of relative quantitative variability of hydroxylated amino acids in collagen (Pendery & Koon 2013). Samples (N=9) were taken from children with (n=3, cranium, femur, tibia) and without (n=4, cranium, femur, tibia) apparent bone reactions indicative of Möller-Barlow disease, as well as from adults with lethal traumata (n=2; negative controls). The skeletal remains originated from two early medieval cemeteries from Switzerland.
Gas chromatographic (GC) analysis revealed minor differences between the samples. So far children with no pathologic alterations had fairly same values as negative controls while children with bone reactions paradoxically exhibited even slightly higher values of hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine.
Future research demands for larger sample size and has to discuss sampling strategies. Beside possible misdiagnosis of Möller-Barlow disease it is arguable if only the newly built bone should be analysed even though this could lead to problems related to small sample quantity. It also remains to be seen to which extent varying turnover rates of different skeletal elements, especially in children, must be taken into account.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)


04 Faculty of Medicine > Service Sector > Institute of Legal Medicine > Anthropology
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of Archaeological Sciences > Pre- and Early History

UniBE Contributor:

Kramis, Simon, Trancik Petitpierre, Viera, Cooper, Christine, Lösch, Sandra


500 Science > 560 Fossils & prehistoric life
600 Technology > 610 Medicine & health
900 History > 930 History of ancient world (to ca. 499)




Sandra Lösch

Date Deposited:

25 Mar 2015 09:11

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:44



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