Skip to content
Register Sign in Wishlist

The Backbone of Europe
Health, Diet, Work and Violence over Two Millennia


Part of Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology

Richard H. Steckel, Clark Spencer Larsen, Charlotte A. Roberts, Joerg Baten, Rimantas Jankauskas, Gisela Grupe, Anna Kjellström, Ursula Witwer-Backofen, Felix Engel, Carina Marques, Vitor Matos, Nicholas J. Meinzer, Zsolt Bereczki, Maria Teschler-Nicola, Antonia Marcsik, Anastasia Papathanasiou, Kimberly D. Williams, Paul W. Sciulli, Phillip L. Walker
View all contributors
  • Date Published: November 2018
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108421959

£ 74.99

Add to cart Add to wishlist

Other available formats:

Looking for an inspection copy?

This title is not currently available on inspection

Product filter button
About the Authors
  • Using human skeletal remains, this volume traces health, workload and violence in the European population over the past 2,000 years. Health was surprisingly good for people who lived during the early Medieval Period. The Plague of Justinian of the sixth century was ultimately beneficial for health because the smaller population had relatively more resources that contributed to better living conditions. Increasing population density and inequality in the following centuries imposed an unhealthy diet - poor in protein - on the European population. With the onset of the Little Ice Age in the late Middle Ages, a further health decline ensued, which was not reversed until the nineteenth century. While some aspects of health declined, other attributes improved. During the early modern period, interpersonal violence (outside of warfare) declined possibly because stronger states and institutions were able to enforce compromise and cooperation. European health over the past two millennia was hence multifaceted in nature.

    • Presents the broadest bioarchaeological analysis, which makes a comparison possible between various localities in Europe and with the Western Hemisphere portion of the Global History of Health project
    • Uses skeletal remains to write a history of health, violence and workload across regions of Europe over two millennia
    • Provides a multifaceted picture of human health in Europe documented against many explanatory variables
    Read more

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Over the last half-century there have been only a handful of publications that have pushed the boundaries of bioarchaeology, and The Backbone of Europe is one. This is bioarchaeology at its finest. The analysis of 15,119 human remains made it possible for the authors to discern the subtle nuances of interplay between economics, social change, and health. The Backbone of Europe is the ultimate bioarchaeological synthesis.' Jerry Rose, University of Arkansas

    'This is another impressive example of the rich harvest of a daring and highly innovative research strategy: to squeeze all information from the archaeological records of human skeletons. This time, Europe is the focus of attention. The large dataset and the advanced techniques lead to many new insights into the long-term development of health, stature, workload, and violence in the continent from Antiquity to the present, challenging established views that the 'rise of the West' was an almost continuous process of economic and sociopolitical development.' Jan Luiten van Zanden, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

    'In this companion volume to the much-acclaimed one on the Western Hemisphere, the authors chronicle in amazing detail the longitudinal and cross-sectional patterns in the health of human populations in Europe from the beginning of time to the modern era based on the physical remains of our ancestors. The 500 pages read like an exciting detective novel with a myriad of surprises along the way, and not only about health but also about diet, lifestyle, and violence. One can trace elements of a Malthusian demographic system across the millennia, beginning with the relatively good health of the Early Medieval populations and with the usual suspects of population density, inequality, income, and climate being the contributing cyclical factors. This book is a delight to read and ponder over. The reader will appreciate the immense amount of effort that went into each one of the projects.' John Komlos, University of Munich, Germany

    See more reviews

    Customer reviews

    Not yet reviewed

    Be the first to review

    Review was not posted due to profanity


    , create a review

    (If you're not , sign out)

    Please enter the right captcha value
    Please enter a star rating.
    Your review must be a minimum of 12 words.

    How do you rate this item?


    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2018
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781108421959
    • length: 476 pages
    • dimensions: 252 x 178 x 26 mm
    • weight: 1.1kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    1. The European History of Health project: introduction to goals, materials, and methods Richard H. Steckel, Clark Spencer Larsen, Charlotte A. Roberts and Joerg Baten
    2. Contextual dimensions of health and lifestyle: isotopes, diet, migration, and the archaeological and historical records Rimantas Jankauskas and Gisela Grupe
    3. Measuring community health using skeletal remains: a health index for Europe Richard H. Steckel and Anna Kjellström
    4. The history of European oral health: evidence from dental caries and antemortem tooth loss Ursula Witwer-Backofen and Felix Engel
    5. Proliferative periosteal reactions: assessment of trends in Europe over the past two millennia Carina Marques, Vitor Matos and Nicholas J. Meinzer
    6. Growth disruption in children: linear enamel hypoplasias Zsolt Bereczki, Maria Teschler-Nicola, Antonia Marcsik, Nicholas Meinzer and Joerg Baten
    7. History of anemia and related nutritional deficiencies: evidence from cranial porosities Anastasia Papathanasiou, Nicholas J. Meinzer, Kimberly D. Williams and Clark Spencer Larsen
    8. Agricultural specialization, urbanization, workload and stature Nicholas Meinzer, Richard H. Steckel and Joerg Baten
    9. History of degenerative joint disease in people across Europe – bioarchaeological inferences about lifestyle and activity from osteoarthritis and vertebral osteophytosis Kimberly D. Williams, Nicholas J. Meinzer and Clark Spencer Larsen
    10. The history of violence in Europe: evidence from cranial and postcranial bone trauma Joerg Baten and Richard H. Steckel
    11. The developmental origins of health and disease: early life experiences and adult age at death in Europe: evidence from skeletal remains Charlotte A. Roberts and Richard H. Steckel
    12. Climate and health: Europe from the pre-Middle Ages to the nineteenth century Richard H. Steckel and Felix Engel
    13. Multidimensional patterns of European health, work, and violence over the past two millennia Joerg Baten, Richard H. Steckel, Clark Spencer Larsen and Charlotte A. Roberts
    14. Data collection codebook Richard H. Steckel, Clark Spencer Larsen, Paul W. Sciulli and Phillip L. Walker
    15. Database creation, management, and analysis Charlotte A. Roberts, Richard H. Steckel and Clark Spencer Larsen.

  • Resources for

    The Backbone of Europe

    General Resources

    Find resources associated with this title

    Type Name Unlocked * Format Size

    Showing of

    Back to top

    *This title has one or more locked files and access is given only to lecturers adopting the textbook for their class. We need to enforce this strictly so that solutions are not made available to students. To gain access to locked resources you either need first to sign in or register for an account.

    These resources are provided free of charge by Cambridge University Press with permission of the author of the corresponding work, but are subject to copyright. You are permitted to view, print and download these resources for your own personal use only, provided any copyright lines on the resources are not removed or altered in any way. Any other use, including but not limited to distribution of the resources in modified form, or via electronic or other media, is strictly prohibited unless you have permission from the author of the corresponding work and provided you give appropriate acknowledgement of the source.

    If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

  • Editors

    Richard H. Steckel, Ohio State University
    Richard H. Steckel is Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at the Ohio State University. He is a pioneer in blending human biology, anthropometrics, and measures from skeletal remains for insights into health and well-being. He has published over 120 articles, including two books with Cambridge.

    Clark Spencer Larsen, Ohio State University
    Clark Spencer Larsen is Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the Ohio State University, and member of the National Academy of Sciences. His research focuses on the last 10,000 years of human evolution, with particular emphasis on the history of health and lifestyle. He is the author of Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behavior from the Human Skeleton (Cambridge, 2nd edition, 2015).

    Charlotte A. Roberts, University of Durham
    Charlotte A. Roberts is a Professor of Archaeology at the University of Durham. She has studied and interpreted human remains from archaeological sites for the past thirty years. She is specifically interested in exploring the interaction of people with their environments in the past through patterns of health and disease, taking a multidisciplinary and multi-method approach.

    Joerg Baten, Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, Germany
    Joerg Baten is a Professor of Economic History at Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen, Germany, and Editor-in-Chief of Economics and Human Biology. His research focuses on the effects of nutrition, disease and violence on human development. He has authored or co-edited seven books, including A History of the Global Economy (Cambridge, 2016), an easily comprehensible overview on economic history of all world regions in the last 500 years.


    Richard H. Steckel, Clark Spencer Larsen, Charlotte A. Roberts, Joerg Baten, Rimantas Jankauskas, Gisela Grupe, Anna Kjellström, Ursula Witwer-Backofen, Felix Engel, Carina Marques, Vitor Matos, Nicholas J. Meinzer, Zsolt Bereczki, Maria Teschler-Nicola, Antonia Marcsik, Anastasia Papathanasiou, Kimberly D. Williams, Paul W. Sciulli, Phillip L. Walker

Sign In

Please sign in to access your account


Not already registered? Create an account now. ×

Sorry, this resource is locked

Please register or sign in to request access. If you are having problems accessing these resources please email

Register Sign in
Please note that this file is password protected. You will be asked to input your password on the next screen.

» Proceed

You are now leaving the Cambridge University Press website. Your eBook purchase and download will be completed by our partner Please see the permission section of the catalogue page for details of the print & copy limits on our eBooks.

Continue ×

Continue ×

Continue ×

Find content that relates to you

Join us online

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close

Are you sure you want to delete your account?

This cannot be undone.


Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.