One hundred sixty eight hair samples recovered from two Christian era Nubian cemeteries (550-1450) were subjected to analysis of major and trace elements. Concentrations of magnesium, calcium, strontium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese were determined using inductively coupled plasma spectrometry. Mean levels of each element determined from the Nubian hair compare closely to those documented for modern samples and likely reflect a number of important environmental and biological factors affecting the population. Specifically, the present results provide a quantitative method for assessing the nutritional and disease factors contributing to cribra orbitalia (porotic hyperostosis), a frequent pathology in Nubian remains attributed to iron deficiency anemia. A comparison of iron levels between infants and children with and without cribra orbitalia demonstrates a significantly lower iron level for the affected group. In addition, concentrations of magnesium are also significantly lower for the Nubian subadults with cribra orbitalia. This new finding is consistent with clinical observations in which anemia has been produced in magnesium deficient animals, including humans. A reduction in magnesium lends further support to the hypothesis that age-specific stress stemming from weaning practices, parasitic infection and inadequate diet contributed to cribra orbitalia and its associated anemia in ancient Nubia.
Sandford, Mary K.; Van Gerven, Dennis P.; and Meglen, Robert R.
"Elemental Hair Analysis: New Evidence on the Etiology of Cribra Orbitalia in Sudanese Nubia,"
4, Article 10.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/humbiol/vol55/iss4/10