This study investigates the interaction of disease processes, disease and environment, female and male health as well as health and ageing in a medieval rural village population. For this purpose multiple skeletal indicators of health have been studied, including deficiency, inflammatory, infectious and tumorous disease.

The skeletal remains of 274 individuals from the medieval cemetery of Kirchberg, St.Niedenstein, Schwalm-Eder-Kreis, North Hessia, Germany, were examined using macroscopic and microscopic techniques available in the methods of Palaeohistopathology: Light microscopy, scanning-electron microscopy, endoscopy, and radiography.

The examination revealed that the population suffered from upper and lower respiratory disease, ear infections, meningeal disease, circulatory disorders, infectious disease (e.g.tuberculosis), Möller-Barlow’s disease, anaemia, and tumorous disease. The extent of the disease processes distributed in the population indicated a socio- conomically disadvantaged population and that the health status was poor. These high distributions of disease processes indicate that living conditions were difficult and that the occurrence of the diseases made the living conditions more difficult.

Additionally, the examination using microscopy facilitated the observation of discrete osseous changes that were identified as vestiges of metastatic tumorous growth (micrometastases). The present study presents a new approach in the investigation of malignant disease in archaeological skeletal remains. It was demonstrated that metastatic disease can be expected to have been much more common in Antiquity than reported in palaeopathological literature up to date and that the conditions for this kind of tumor-genesis were present before the development of the modern western society and the artificial environment of the world of today.