Skeleton of 19th-Century British Man Reveals He Wore a Corset

The skeleton of a man aged 20–35 at the time of his death in the early 19th century. His burial was partly destroyed due to construction work that took place before the archaeological excavation of the church cemetery where he was buried. Image credit: J. Moore, BARC, Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford

The Industrial Revolution brought significant development to Europe in the late 18th and 19th centuries, but it also increased the risk of diseases like tuberculosis (TB), which spread like wildfire among people living in close quarters in cities. Without a cure, TB was responsible for nearly one-third of all deaths in Britain in the first half of the 19th century. Now, bioarchaeologists are discovering skeletons that show some people lived a long time before the disease killed them. A new study investigates a skeleton of a young man who had tuberculosis in the early 19th century in Wolverhampton, England—and oddly enough, changes to his spine and ribs suggest he may have worn a corset.

Tuberculosis primarily infects the lungs, but it can spread to bone through the bloodstream. The disease tends to concentrate in the vertebrae of the spine, because these bones are near the lungs, and because the pathogen likes the blood cell–producing tissues there. The infection of the spine often results in a hunchback deformity as the vertebrae collapse, known as Pott’s disease.

Since TB couldn’t be cured and often progressed to deform the spine, men and women both wore corsets as an orthopedic device to correct postural issues. Of course, people also wore corsets for reasons of fashion: Women attempted to slim their waists and emphasize their hips and busts, while aristocratic men used them to show off their broad shoulders and narrow waist.

Writing in the International Journal of Paleopathology, UK bioarchaeologists Joanna Moore and Jo Buckberry lay out the evidence from this skeleton, which was one of 150 burials excavated from St. Peter’s Collegiate Church overflow cemetery in 2001–2002. The cemetery was in use from 1819–1853; they couldn't pinpoint the time of the man's death any more precisely. His ribs had a weird angle to them on both sides—the result of something compressing them over time. While the vitamin-D deficiency rickets can cause this, there was no other evidence of that disease in his body. The spinous processes of the man’s thoracic vertebrae—those little poky bits you can feel along the midline of your back between your ribs—were also strangely positioned, angling to the left. Both types of bony deformities are consistent with compression from long-term corset use.

But beyond the compression seen in the ribs and mid-spine, Moore and Buckberry found evidence of a life-threatening disease. All of the vertebrae in the man’s lumbar spine in his lower back had been damaged. The destruction was so immense in the first and second lumbar vertebrae that they collapsed and fused together, creating a significant bend in his lower spine. Similar destruction was present in the lower thoracic spine, where the vertebrae meet with the ribs. These destroyed vertebrae are characteristic of Pott’s disease and are almost certainly the result of tuberculosis.

Kyphosis, or bending deformity, of the man's spine (vertebrae T10-L4). Image credit: J. Moore, BARC, Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford

Moore and Buckberry found historical records from Wolverhampton that note that tuberculosis—also known as consumption, because people literally wasted away from the disease—was a significant factor affecting health and causing death in this area in the early 19th century. The rapid industrialization of the city had led to increased levels of air pollution, which in turn contributed to a rise in lung diseases like TB.

So, this young 19th-century British man had tuberculosis and wore a corset. But the skeleton itself does not reveal whether he was a dandy who contracted tuberculosis or a consumptive who didn’t much care for fashion. The skeletal effects of fashionable garments and medical apparatus in men of the time period would be similar. Of course, as anthropologist Rebecca Gibson of American University, whose research deals with social and biological effects of corseting in European women of the 18th and 19th centuries, told mental_floss, "being a dandy and being a consumptive are not mutually exclusive." All that said, the link between TB and corsets is well established through both historical records and skeletal remains, so it is at least probable that this Wolverhampton man contracted TB and corrected his spinal issue with a corset.

From a 19th-century textbook, a depiction of the impact of a corset on the body: "A, the natural position of internal organs. B, when deformed by tight lacing. In this way the liver and the stomach have been forced downward, as seen in the cut." // Public Domain

Perhaps most interesting, though, is that this is actually the first male skeleton ever found to have corset-related changes. Gibson says, "The deformation shown here is consistent with corseting damage seen in female skeletons." Although historical records clearly mention European men wearing corsets, prior to this study, the only skeletons shown to have corset deformities have been female. This lack of evidence may be related to the diminishing popularity of corseting among men in this time period, or it may be related to a lack of systematic study of male skeletons for corseting practices. Regardless of the reason for it, this new finding shows that bioarchaeologists should consider chucking gendered assumptions when looking at skeletons for corset wearing.

What began as Moore’s student project on a skeleton curated by the Biological Archaeology Research Centre at the University of Bradford may now change the way bioarchaeologists look at the bodies of men from 18th to 19th century Europe. Now that we know that corseting evidence can be found on men’s bodies, more studies of this kind will increase our understanding of both Victorian medical practice and men’s fashion.

16 Facts About Migraines

Unless you suffer from migraines yourself, you may think that having a migraine means having a really bad headache. But debilitating head pain is only one part of the medical condition called migraine disorder. Other common symptoms are nausea, dizziness, fatigue, sensitivity to light and sound, and even temporary blindness. The symptoms and causes of migraine look different in different patients, and researchers are only now beginning to understand what the condition is and how to treat it. Here are some of the most enlightening facts we know about migraine disorder.


Even if you don’t suffer from migraine, chances are you know someone who does: The disorder affects 14.7 percent of the population, or one in seven people, around the world. In the U.S. alone, roughly 39 million people are affected by the condition. Chronic migraine (experiencing at least 15 headache days per month over a three-month period, with over half being migraines) is more rare, impacting about 2 percent of the world population.


Of the one billion people on Earth who have migraine disorder, three-fourths are women. Medical experts suspect this has to do with the cyclical nature of female hormones. According to research presented earlier in 2018, NHE1, the protein that regulates the transfer of protons and sodium ions across cell membranes, is a crucial component of migraine headaches. NHE1 production likely fluctuates a lot more in women than in men. When scientists looked at the brains of lab rats, they found that NHE1 levels were lowest when estrogen was at its peak. In general, female rats also had four times the amount of NHE1 in their brains as males. If the same holds true for people, that could explain why women are not only more likely to suffer migraines in the first place, but why they experience them more frequently and more intensely, and have more difficulty responding to treatment.


For doctors and sufferers, migraine triggers can be a source of confusion. They vary from patient to patient and often come from unexpected sources that have no relation to each other. Stress, too much or too little sleep, dehydration, alcohol, and caffeine are some of the most common triggers. Some people get migraines after eating specific foods, like cheese, and others are sensitive to changes in weather conditions like barometric pressure. Some people manage their migraines by pinpointing and avoiding triggers.


Before the nausea, dizziness, and splitting head pain begin, auras warn some people that a migraine is on its way. Less than 25 percent [PDF] of migraine sufferers experience distorted senses, such as numbness or tingling in the hands or face, or blotches of light or darkness disrupting their vision. Auras usually occur 10 to 30 minutes before the migraine develops and last from five minutes to one hour.


Unlike migraine with aura, retinal migraine is limited to one eye. Symptoms range from seeing twinkling stars to partial or complete loss of vision. The same eye is almost always affected, and the person typically regains their sight after 10 to 20 minutes.


One of the rarest, and scariest, subtypes of migraine is hemiplegic migraine. People with this variant can experience weakness, numbness, tingling, or loss of motor function in parts of one half of their body, including their arm, leg, or face. Though sensations usually dissipate within 24 hours, they can last anywhere from one hour to several days. Sometimes they’re accompanied by typical migraine symptoms, such as head pain, but they can also occur on their own.


Migraine isn’t just a problem for adults—up to 10 percent of all school-aged kids are affected by the disorder, with reported cases coming from children as young as 18 months. According to the documentary Out of My Head (2018), migraine is the third most common reason for child emergency room visits. The symptoms of migraine in kids are similar to what’s seen in older patients: They may experience intense head pain, sick feelings, distorted vision, and sensitivity to sound and light. The major differences are that child migraines often develop suddenly and are shorter than they are in adults. In children, it’s not uncommon for the nausea and abdominal pain to feel worse than the actual headaches. Just as some sufferers don’t experience their first episodes until after puberty, some children with migraine grow out of it. According to one study, migraine symptoms disappeared completely in 23 percent of former child sufferers by age 25.


For most people with migraine disorder, it runs in the family. Anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of migraine sufferers report having at least one family member who has it as well. If one parent has migraine, there’s a 50 percent chance their child will eventually have to live with migraine—and that risk shoots up to 75 percent when both parents have the condition.


Genetics isn’t the only factor that contributes to someone’s chance of having migraine disorder. One study found that after a 12-month deployment in Iraq, 36 percent of veterans exhibited symptoms of migraine. The cause often stems from head or neck trauma sustained from explosions, falls, or other accidents during their service. While post-traumatic migraine goes away in most patients within a few months, in some cases it can develop into a chronic condition.


In addition to the part of our nervous system that responds to outside stimuli, humans have an enteric nervous system: the part responsible for regulating digestion. Some medical experts believe that migraine is closely tied to this “second brain.” People with migraine are twice as likely to have IBS as people with tension headaches. Abdominal migraine, where the pain is concentrated in the stomach rather than the head, is one form the condition takes. It's most often seen in children, but it can affect adults as well.


In 2017, the National Institutes of Health invested $22 million in migraine research. Asthma research received $286 million, breast cancer $689 million, and diabetes $1.1 billion.


Though migraine isn't life-threatening like these other conditions, it is widespread enough to have a negative impact on society as a whole. Workers with migraine often end up taking a lot of time off from their jobs, which can cost their employers. According to Out of My Head, it’s estimated that 113 million work days are missed annually due to migraine, adding up a to $13 billion loss.


In the famous children’s book, Alice drinks a liquid that makes her grow many times her size and eats a cookie that shrinks her to tiny proportions. Migraine sufferers may recognize themselves in these passages. Possible symptoms of the disorder include micropsia and macropsia, or perceiving objects to be much smaller or larger than they really are. Some theorize that Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll suffered migraines and wrote his experiences into his story. The book’s connection to migraine is so famous that today the related symptoms are commonly known as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.


Another famous person from history who likely suffered from migraines was Thomas Jefferson. His symptoms could last for weeks and often appeared during stressful times in his life. There was even an episode that coincided with one of the most important nights of his political career. One night in June 1790, he invited Federalist Alexander Hamilton and Republican James Madison to his home for a dinner party in the hopes of getting his peers to agree on a location for the new U.S. capital. Despite dealing with lingering head pain from a migraine, he successfully brokered the compromise that landed the capital at its current spot on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. In return, Madison agreed that he would not block Hamilton's plan for the federal government to take on state war debt, thus helping establish the young nation's credit.


In the U.S., up to 40 percent of people with migraine also have depression. Risk of anxiety, bipolar disorder, and panic disorder are also higher in migraine sufferers. Researchers are still figuring out the connections between mental illness and migraine. While the anticipation of painful symptoms can cause depression and anxiety in some people, experts believe that mental illness is often more than just an effect of living with migraine. The production of the brain chemical serotonin is involved in both migraine and depression. That’s why tricyclic antidepressants designed to increase serotonin levels are sometimes prescribed to treat migraine.


Many migraine therapies from the past few decades have been the result of trial and error. Medications designed to treat other conditions, such as antidepressants, epilepsy medicine, and botox, have all been prescribed to migraine sufferers, with mixed results. Earlier in 2018, the first-ever shot made to treat migraines specifically secured FDA approval. The shot, which blocks a peptide linked to migraine, is taken once a month and can improve symptoms or completely eliminate them in some cases. Before the new injection came along, the only other migraine-specific medications patients had to choose from were triptans, which stimulate the neurotransmitter serotonin. They can't prevent migraine, but they can help dampen symptoms by reducing inflammation and constricting blood flow. According to Out of My Head, triptans were first approved more than two decades ago—so new medication options are long overdue.

Canine Flu is On the Rise: Here's What You Should Know

It's been eight years since the World Health Organization announced the end of the swine flu pandemic, and now the condition is back in the news for infecting a different type of host. As Live Science reports, the H1N1 virus is mixing with canine flu to create new strains that could potentially spread to people.

Dog flu has been around for a couple of decades, but the two main canine strains, H3N8 and H3N2, have never been contracted by humans. According to a new study published in mBio, some dogs in the Guangxi region of China were found carrying H1N1, the flu strain at the root of the swine flu outbreak. Researchers also discovered three entirely new flu strains that were a combination of H1N1 and regular dog flu viruses.

The unrecognized flu strains are the most troubling discovery. As the flu travels between species, it mingles with viruses that are already there, creating a level of genetic diversity that leaves our immune systems, which are best equipped to fight strains they've already been exposed to, vulnerable. The swine flu epidemic of 2009 started in a similar way, when H1N1 jumped from birds to pigs, and eventually to people.

But the new report isn't a reason to banish your pet to the doghouse next time she seems under the weather. The virus samples were collected from dogs in China between 2013 and 2015, and in the years since, zero humans have caught influenza from dogs (though dog flu has started spreading to cats). If the virus continues mutating to the point where it can infect humans, both the CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture will take action. But for now, the CDC states that canine flu viruses "pose a low threat to people."

Canine flu may not be dangerous to humans yet, but it can still be stressful for dog owners if their pet comes down with a case. Ask your vet about getting your dog vaccinated, and if you see your dog coughing, sneezing, and acting less energetic than usual, make an appointment to get him checked out as soon as possible. If he does have the flu, he can be treated with plenty of rest and hydration.

[h/t Live Science]


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