Maxillary sinusitis as a respiratory health indicator: a bioarchaeological investigation into medieval central Italy

Int J Paleopathol. 2021 Dec:35:40-48. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpp.2021.09.001. Epub 2021 Sep 20.


Objective: This study aims to assess chronic maxillary sinusitis in an osteoarchaeological sample from the medieval rural site of Pieve di Pava (central Italy), to investigate triggers responsible for sinus inflammation, and to compare prevalence rates with coeval European rural sites.

Materials: The analysis focused on 145 10th-12th-century adults with at least one preserved maxillary sinus.

Methods: Sinusitis-related lesions were observed macroscopically and microscopically. Alveolar pathologies of the maxillary posterior dentition were recorded to investigate the impact of odontogenic sinusitis.

Results: Maxillary sinusitis was observed in 23.4% of the individuals (n = 34), with similar frequencies in both sexes and bilateral sinusitis appearing more frequently than unilateral sinusitis. An association of alveolar lesions with sinusitis was found in 38.2% of cases.

Conclusions: Compared to coeval rural sites in Northern Europe, Pieve di Pava shows the lowest prevalence of maxillary sinusitis, likely reflecting a greater amount of time spent outdoors. Despite the small size of the sample, odontogenic sinusitis cannot be ruled out.

Significance: This is the first Italian study to investigate maxillary sinusitis and to focus on the Mediterranean area, contributing to the understanding of this condition as a health indicator in ancient populations.

Limitations: Research limitations include preservation issues affecting the number of observable sinuses, the non-homogenous age distribution of the sample, and the impact of inclusion and methodological criteria on the comparability of results.

Suggestions for further research: Further investigations into odontogenic sinusitis and the microscopic examination of dental calculus may provide new data on the pathogenesis of sinusitis.

Keywords: Europe; alveolar disease; archaeology; environment; rural context.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maxilla
  • Maxillary Sinus
  • Maxillary Sinusitis* / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Sinusitis* / epidemiology