Date of Award

Fall 12-2018

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Social Science and Global Studies

Committee Chair

Marie Elaine Danforth

Committee Chair School

Social Science and Global Studies


Although residing in a tropical environment, numerous researchers have posited the possibility of scurvy in the Maya in recent years. The historic population of Tipu in western Belize dating to AD 1541-1638 is one of the largest and best preserved Maya series, and was therefore evaluated for possible presence of scurvy since the diet appears typical of the pre-contact Petén populations. The temporal bones and greater wings of the sphenoid were analyzed for scorbutic activity in 143 individuals, along with periodontal disease and antemortem tooth loss to determine if there was a co-occurrence with scurvy.

Overall, 27% of the sample showed indications of mild scurvy. In age comparisons, sub-adults between 6 and 15 had the highest rate of lesions at 33% affected, and those over 30 had the lowest at 16 %. Adult males were more likely to display symptoms of scurvy with a prevalence of 29% as compared to females at 21%. Approximately half of all individuals with scurvy displayed lesions on both the temporal and sphenoid, with 97% of adults with scurvy showing a co-occurrence with periodontal disease.

This data suggests Tipu experienced scurvy, but the frequency was low and severity was relatively mild. One potential cause, despite living in a tropical environment, is Maya food processing practices and possibly their food preferences. The findings also suggest that scurvy and other similar conditions should be kept in mind when interpreting health status since their symptoms may be acting synergistically with other nutrient deficiencies to compromise the immune system.