Today I attended an open lecture hold at the Osteological research laboratory at Stockholm University by Nikolaos Roumelis (PhD student) about the living conditions in a medieval village in Kirchberg, Germany, described from markers on the skeleton made by inflammatory dieses, infections and tumours. He had detected these by macroscopic and microscopic methods.
He has studied human skeletal remains from the village Kirchberg dated to 700-1700 A.D., in total 274 individuals. It can be said that these villager, most of them farmer (ca 20 individuals are members of the clergy or nobility), have lived their lives in a rather barren mountain district, they have suffered from nutrition deficiency, infectiousness dieses and heavy workload.
Evidence shows that sinusitis is very common among the villagers. The method of finding evidence of sinusitis is a combination of macroscopic, microscopic and x-rays. It is most usual to find the evidence in the cavities of the sinus maxilaris. When you consider that before modern medicine it wasn’t unusual to have these inflammations for months or even years they are likely to set traces on the skeleton. More so it is not uncommon for sinusitis to spread and give cause to other diseases like otitis (ear) or meningitis (brain), which also can be detectable on the skeleton.
Another disease that is detectable on the skeleton is tuberculosis. This can be either postcranial or on the cranium. If postcranial the traces can be found on the spine or on the costae (ribs). If in the cranium it is often referred to as tuberculosis meningitis and leaves small pearl like impressions on the inside of the skull. If I understood it right ca 20% of the adults and 10-15% of adolescents had some marks indicating postcranial tuberculosis. Sings of pleuropulmonar tuberculosis (lungs) are found on and ca 80% of the adult skeletons and in less than 5 % of the adolescent ones. These marks can be found on the inside of the costae (ribs). Tumours gives two types of processes on the skeleton; osteoblastic metastases (building bone) and osteoclastic metastases (bone death/necrosis). The metastases are not equal to cancer but can be a trace of cancer. In this material the metastases were most common on the costae (ribs).
The meted gives new possibilities within the field of paleopathology to diagnose infectiousness-, inflammatory disease and tumours on ancient skeletal material. There are problems with the method, such as it takes a long time to do it and time is seldom on the osteologist side.
According to plan he will put forward his PhD thesis in August or September this year. This lecture was something of a teaser; I believe that it is going to be something to look forward to. It seems very interesting indeed. Keep an eye for it!!!
As there were quite a lot of numbers and a lot of new facts it is possible that I misunderstood some part or have mixed some numbers, if so please let me know so I can correct it.