Last week Jo Buckberry and her PhD student attended the PPA (Paleopathology Association) and AAPA (American Association of Physical Anthropologists) meetings in Knoxville. We both took along textured 3D models of pathological bones form our sites which were created as part of the Digitised Diseases project, which allowed conference delegates to investigate the pathologies in more detail, and gave us a valuable opportunity to promote the project.

Jo presented a poster on the skeletal remains of a head excavated in Heslington, York, which contained the preserved remains of ‘Britain’s Oldest Brain’ (O’Connor et al 2011). The paper focussed on the probable cause of death: the individual had a peri-mortem fracture to the second cervical vertebra, separating the body from the neural arch (a so-called ‘Hangman’s fracture’). On the front of the vertebrae was a series of nine shallow peri-mortem incisions, indicating the individual had been decapitated in a careful, measured manner. No bones from below this point were recovered, indicating the articulated head had been deposited in a pit.

Ceilidh presented the evidence of pathology from Viking-era cemeteries in Orkney. Importantly, the pathologies present were all chronic conditions, with no evidence of inter-personal violence, suggesting that these Viking populations were not violent raiders, but peaceful settlers.

pathological femur

A pathological femur from skeleton 34, from Ceilidh Lerwick’s PhD research (see here for more information on this specimen)

We thank York Archaeological Trust and the National Museums Scotland for giving us permission to scan these bones for Digitised Diseases while they are on loan to the University of Bradford.

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