Interpreting diachronic changes and infra-contextual comparisons. The bioarchaeological archive of San Biagio in Cittiglio (Varese, Northern Italy)

Main Article Content

Chiara Tesi


Bioarchaeology, chronological comparison, human remains, health status, diachronic osteological variations


The medieval and post-medieval cemetery of San Biagio in Cittiglio constitutes a context of archaeological and bioarchaeological interest that is significant for the knowledge of the population that once lived in the ancient region of Valcuvia. The Romanesque church, originally built during the early Middle Ages and subsequently modified, is characterized by the presence of a well-structured cemetery context. The investigations conducted so far allowed us to examine the archaeological stratigraphy and bringing to light different phases of use of the cemetery areas.

During the study, an almost well-preserved sample emerged, albeit affected by different sources of selection today difficult to reconstruct, which make this osteoarchaeological sample a fraction of the original subset of the population. The sample analyzed was well represented by all categories of individuals, with a disproportion between adults and subadults, who died particularly in infancy between 0 and 3 years of age. This characteristic led us to think that the sample had been the subject of several processes of selection which resulted in the over-representation of subadults and the under-representation of adults.

The diachronic aspect of the cemetery, whose use extends from the 10th to the 17th century, allowed us to carry out comparative analyzes between two chronological subgroups divided according to the local and regional history of the site. The diachronic perspective has revealed the existence of differences in health status and dietary practices between the High Middle Ages and the Late and Post-Medieval Ages, highlighting how the social and political differences we are aware of thanks to historical documents can also be reflected from biological characteristics extracted from the anthropological record.

Abstract 12 | PDF Downloads 5


Acsádi, G., Nemeskéri, J. (1970). History of human life span and mortality. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest.
AlQahtani, S. J., Hector, M. P., & Liversidge, H. M. (2010). Brief communication: The London atlas of human tooth development and eruption. American Journal of Physical Anthropology,142(3), 481–490.
Barbiera, I., & Dalla-Zuanna, G. (2009). Population Dynamics in Italy in the Middle Ages: New Insights from Archaeological Findings. Population and Development Review, 35(2), 367–389.
Belcastro, M. G., Mariotti, V., Facchini, F., & Bonfiglioli, B. (2004). Proposal of a Data Collection Form to Record Dento-Alveolar Features – Application to Two Roman Skeletal Samples from Italy. Collegium Antropologicum, 17 Beyer-Olsen, E. M. S., & Risnes, S. (1994). Radiographic analysis of dental development used in age determination of infant and juvenile skulls from a medieval archaeological site in Norway. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 4(4), 299–303.
Brooks, S., & Suchey, J. M. (1981). Skeletal age determination based on the os pubic: a comparison of the AcsádiNemeskéri and Suchey-Brooks methods. Human Evolution, 5, 1990, 227–238.
Bruzek, J. (2002). A method for visual determination of sex, using the human hip bone. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 117(2), 157–168.
Bruzek, J., Castex, D., & Majó, T. (1996). Évaluation des caractères morphologiques de la face sacro-pelvienne de l’os coxal. Proposition d’une nouvelle méthode de diagnose sexuelle. Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris, 8(3), 491–502.
Buckberry, J. L., & Chamberlain, A. T. (2002). Age estimation from the auricular surface of the ilium: A revised method. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 119(3), 231–239. https://
Buikstra, J., & Ubelaker, D. (1994). Standards for data collection from human skeletal remains. Fayetteville (AR]: Arkansas Archaeological Survey. Research series 44.
Cardoso, H. F. V., Spake, L., & Humphrey, L. T. (2017). Age estimation of immature human skeletal remains from the dimensions of the girdle bones in the postnatal period. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 163(4), 772–783.
Carneiro, C., Curate, F., & Cunha, E. (2016). A method for estimating gestational age of fetal remains based on long bone lengths. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 130(5), 1333–1341.
Estimo di Carlo V, Ducato di Milano. Estimi del ducato di Milano del 1558, con aggiornamenti fino al XVII secolo, ASCMi, Località foresi, cartt. 1-52. Retrieved from
Fazekas, I. G., & Kósa, F. (1978). Forensic fetal osteology. Akadémiai Kiadó.
Ferembach, D., Schwidetzki, I., Stloukal, M. (1977-79). Raccomandazioni per la determinazione dell’età e del sesso sullo scheletro. Rivista di Antropologia, 60, 5-51.
Giuffra, V., Milanese, M., & Minozzi, S. (2020). Dental health in adults and subadults from the 16th-century plague cemetery of Alghero (Sardinia, Italy). Archives of Oral Biology, 120, 104928.
Gustafson, G., & Koch, G. (1974). Age estimation up to 16 years of age based on dental development. Odontologisk Revy, 25, 297–306.
Hartnett, K. M. (2010a). Analysis of Age-at-Death Estimation Using Data from a New, Modern Autopsy Sample-Part I: Pubic Bone*,†: Age-At-Death Estimation Using The Pubic Bone. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 55(5), 1145–1151. https://doi. org/10.1111/j.1556-4029.2010.01399.x
Hartnett, K. M. (2010b). Analysis of Age-at-Death Estimation Using Data from a New, Modern Autopsy Sample-Part II: Sternal End of the Fourth Rib*,†. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 55(5), 1152–1156. 4029.2010.01415.x
Hillson, S. (2000). Dental pathology. In Biological Anthropology of the Human Skeleton, Katzenberg, M. A., Saunders, S.R. (Eds). Wiley-Liss, Inc, New York, 249-286.
Hillson, S. (2009). The world’s largest infant cemetery and its potential for studying growth and development. Hesperia Supplements, 43, 137–154.
Iscan, M. Y., Loth, S. R., & Wright, R. K. (1985). Age estimation from the rib by phase analysis: white females. Journal of Forensic Science, 30(3), 853–863.
Jordana, X., Isidro, A., & Malgosa, A. (2010). Interpreting diachronic osteological variation at the medieval necropolis of the Sant Pere Churches (Terrassa, Spain): Interpreting Diachronic
Osteological Variation. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 20(6), 670–692.
Licata, M., Iorio, S., Rossetti, C., & Badino, P. (2019). The medieval church of San Biagio in Cittiglio (Varese, Northern Italy). Archaeological and anthropological investigations of the cemeterial area. Studia Antiqua et Archaeologica, 25(1), 163–183.
Licata, M., Rossetti, C., Tosi, A., & Badino, P. (2018). A foetal tile from an archaeological site: anthropological investigation of human remains recovered in a medieval cemetery in Northern
Italy. Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 31(11), 1527–1529.
Liversidge, H. M., Herdeg, B., & Rösing, F. W. (1998). Dental Age Estimation of Non-Adults. A Review of Methods and Principles. In K. W. Alt, F. W. Rösing, & M. Teschler-Nicola (Eds.), Dental Anthropology (pp. 419–442). Springer, Vienna.
Lovejoy, C. O., Meindl, R. S., Pryzbeck, T. R., & Mensforth, R. P. (1985). Chronological metamorphosis of the auricular surface of the ilium: A new method for the determination of adultskeletal age at death. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 68(1), 15–28.
Maresh, M. M. (1970). Measurements from roentgenograms, heart size, long bone lengths, bone, muscles and fat widths, skeletal maturation. Human growth and development, 155–200.
Mariotti, V., Facchini, F., & Belcastro, M. G. (2007). The study of entheses: proposal of a standardised scoring method for twenty-three entheses of the postcranial skeleton. Collegium
antropologicum, 31(1), 291–313.
Martin, R., & Saller, K. (1956-59). Lehrbuch der Anthropologie in systematischer Darstellung. Gustav Fischer, Stuttgart.
McKern, T. W., & Stewart, T. D. (1957). Skeletal age changes in young American males: analysed from the standpoint of age identification. Headquarters, Quartermaster Research & Development Command.
Mella Pariani, R. (2009). Cittiglio (VA) Chiesa di San Biagio. Indagine archeologica 2006/2009.
Mincer, H. H., Harris, E. F., & Berryman, H. E. (1993). The A.B.F.O. Study of Third Molar Development and Its Use as an Estimator of Chronological Age. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 38(2), 13418J.
Molleson T., Cox M. (1993). The Spitalfields project, Vol. 2: The anthropology. The middling sort. CBA Research Report 86. York: Council for British Archaeology.
Moore, M. K., DiGangi, E. A., Niño Ruíz, F. P., Hidalgo Davila, O. J., & Sanabria Medina, C. (2016). Metric sex estimation from the postcranial skeleton for the Colombian population.
Forensic Science International, 262, 286.e1–286.e8.
Moore, W. J., & Corbett, E. (1973). The distribution of dental caries in ancient British populations. Caries research, 7(2), 139–153.
Moorrees, C. F. A., Fanning, E. A., & Hunt, E. E. (1963). Age Variation of Formation Stages for Ten Permanent Teeth. Journal of Dental Research, 42(6), 1490–1502.
Osborne, D. L., Simmons, T. L., & Nawrocki, S. P. (2004). Reconsidering the Auricular Surface as an Indicator of Age at Death. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 49(5), 1–7.
Phenice, T. W. (1969). A newly developed visual method of sexing the os pubis. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 30, 297–302.
Scheuer, L., Black, S. (2000). Developmental Juvenile Osteology. Academic Press: place, Oxford.
Scheuer, J. L., & Musgrave, J. H., & Evans, S. P. (1980). The estimation of late fetal and perinatal age from limb bone length by linear and logarithmic regression. Annals of Human Biology, 7(3), 257–265.
Smith, B. H. (1991). Standards of human tooth formation and dental age assessment. Wiley-Liss Inc, New York.
Sparacello, V. S., Vercellotti, G., d’Ercole, V., & Coppa, A. (2017). Social reorganization and biological change: An examination of stature variation among Iron Age Samnites from Abruzzo, central Italy. International Journal of Paleopathology, 18, 9–20.
Spradley, M. K., & Jantz, R. L. (2011). Sex estimation in forensic anthropology: skull versus postcranial elements. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 56(2), 289–296.
Stloukal, M., & Hanáková, H. (1978). Length of long bones in ancient Slavonic populations-with particular consideration to questions of growth. Homo-Journal of Comparative Human Biology, 29(1), 53–69.
Tesi, C. (2022). Bioarcheologia di una popolazione Medievale e Post-Medievale proveniente da un sito del territorio varesino. Il cimitero di San Biagio in Cittiglio (X-XVII sec.). [Unpublished
Doctoral dissertation, University of Insubria]
Tesi, C., Giuffra, V., Fornaciari, G., Larentis, O., Motto, M., & Licata, M. (2019). A case of erosive polyarthropathy from Medieval northern Italy (12th–13th centuries). International
Journal of Paleopathology, 25, 20–29.
Tesi, C., Gorini, I., Bariatti, E., & Licata, M. (2021). Accessory sacroiliac joints and the iliosacral complex: Two case studies from a medieval and post-medieval cemetery in northern Italy.
Anthropologischer Anzeiger, 100448.
Tesi, C., Licata, M., Picozzi, M., & Ciliberti, R. (2021). The fate of stillborns. Perceptions from a historical, anthropological and bioethical reasoning. Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, 1–6.
Tesi, C., Ricci, S., Crezzini, J., Badino, P., Fusco, R., Rossetti, C., Gorini, I., & Licata, M. (2022). Wounded to death. Holistic, multimodal reconstruction of the dynamics in a case of multiple
perimortem cranial injuries from a medieval site in northern Italy. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 46, 103643.
Verbanus. Rassegna per la cultura, l’arte, la storia del lago (2009). Alberti Editore, Verbania.