Select or Award-Winning Individual Scholarship

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Spring 5-8-2021

Abstract

This project examined commingled and fragmentary skeletal remains from Koch Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, where thousands of epidemic victims were buried in mass graves. There were two primary research objectives: 1) to use archival research to construct a site history and understand patient demographics, and 2) to decommingle and estimate collection population. Archival research used Ancestry LE and Newspapers.com to collect data on the demographics of the dead and historical social dynamics of healthcare. Zooarchaeological and forensic anthropological methods, including zonation and landmark analysis, were used to estimate the minimum number of individuals (MNI) and most likely number of individuals (MLNI). Results show a MLNI of 40 ± 18, with a comparative MNI of 17 individuals. The MLNI estimate is more accurate because it compensates for low recovery rates and fragmentation. Statistical analyses of death records revealed significant disparities between sexes and racial/ethnic groups in age at time of death: black individuals died 10.9 years younger than white individuals (p = 0.0001) and females died 7.4 years younger than males (p = 0.0005). During epidemics, St. Louis’ largest newspapers reported significantly higher death rates amongst people of color. While many individuals buried at Koch were immigrants, all were of low socioeconomic status, with less access to and a lower quality of healthcare than higher socioeconomic status individuals. Koch Cemetery demonstrates how disproportionately the most marginalized populations of St. Louis were affected by infectious disease during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Comments

This work was completed in fulfillment of the requirements for graduation with Honors from the Department of Anthropology.

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