Grave or Gut: Exploration into bacterial bioerosion and bone decomposition in an 18th-19th century Atlantic Canadian cemetery

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University of New Brunswick


Bioarchaeology is the study of human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts to explore the lived experience of past populations. Bone is a dynamic, living tissue. Whether growing and developing throughout life, or decomposing after death, changes to the skeleton occur in predictable patterns. Microscopic analyses of how bone structure degrades after death can tell us about the life of the individual, specifically their bacterial load within the digestive tract. This thesis utilized microscopic X-ray Computed Tomography (micro-CT) technology to create a new method in the assessment of skeletal remains as it pertains to a unique type of skeletal degeneration known as bacterial bioerosion. While this type of research has never been conducted within the Canadian Maritimes before, the method created was used to positively identify evidence of bacterial bioerosion in the skeletal remains of five of the seven assessed individuals from an 18th -19th century Atlantic Canadian cemetery.