04 March 2024

A haematologist has been working with archaeologists on a project that may help determine the prevalence of anaemia in past ages.

Dr Michelle Zeller, associate professor of haematology and thromboembolism at McMaster University, Ontario, Canada, helped the research team identify skeletal changes associated with anaemia in living patients. This will now enable archaeologists to search human remains for signs of anaemia.

The findings have been reported in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

During the research, the team examined skeletons from a Quebec cemetery dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries in the search of patterns similar to those found in living patients.

Using micro-CT scanning, the team measured the microscopic gaps inside the sternum (trabecular space) in living people, and found differences in the size of these gaps between people with anaemia and those without. The archaeological samples showed that the same patterns could be found in previous generations.

The researchers chose the sternum for study as it is less susceptible to injury than other bones, making structural evidence of anaemia easier to isolate.

Researcher Professor Megan Brickley, chair in the bioarchaeology of human disease at McMaster University, said: “We suspect anaemia was really common in the past, but there has been no definitive way to show how common it was. Now we can use this completely new approach.”


Morgan B, Zeller M, Ribot I, and Brickley MB (2024) “Skeletal manifestations of anemia in the sternum in a modern clinical sample: An initial investigation.” Journal of Archaeological Science doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2024.105942

Link: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440324000086   

Disclaimer: The news stories shared on this site are used as a way to inform our members and followers of updates and relevant information happening in Haematology. The BSH does not endorse the content of news items from external sources, and is not in a position to verify the findings, accuracy or the source of any studies mentioned. Any medical or drugs information is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

News service provided by Englemed News.