JACQUELINE T. ENG
- The Anthropological Society of Nippon
- Anthropological Science (ISSN:09187960)
- vol.118, no.2, pp.107-116, 2010 (Released:2010-08-07)
The practice of castrating men is an ancient one. Eunuchs have served as guards to harems and as palace chamberlains for many early courts, but details about their lives are often hazy or shrouded in secrecy. Although the changes wrought to their physical appearance from castration are well-documented, little is known about the magnitude of the skeletal changes resulting from the loss of sex hormones associated with the procedure. Such a loss of hormones, especially before puberty, affects skeletal growth and development and may result in early osteoporosis as well as impacting quality of life. The burials of two eunuchs from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) of imperial China provide an opportunity to examine the consequences of castration upon the human skeleton. These eunuchs may have been castrated at different periods in their lives. One eunuch appears to have been castrated before the development of secondary sexual characteristics; the delayed epiphyseal closure accompanying androgen deficiency may account for his long limbs. Skeletal evidence also sheds light on the lives of these eunuchs, including their oral health, history of childhood stress, and activity patterns.