Notes from the Osteological Associations 2008 symposium part 4

These are notes that will be edited, I urge you to comment on anything that seems to be out of place or faulty so that I can correct this. The intention is to compress these notes into a far shorter and more focused version to be printed in the Swedish Osteological Associations journal Benbiten during 2008.  The last lecturer of the day was Fil. Dr. Caroline Arcini from the National Heritage Board (RAA), UV Syd. UV is RAA’s department for archaeological excavations, and UV syd is the regional office for the south in Sweden, mainly Scania.

Reconstructing daily life in past populations. The future of Paleopathology.

Fil. Dr. Caroline Arcini


Caroline Arcini started off with a discussion of anthropology and the importance of collaborations to answer questions of what happened, how it happened and why did it happen instead of merely describing what we see.

For example how do we determinate if markers from a trauma are due to an accident or to violence? In some cases as in beheadings, shootings and stabbings these markers can be clear in others as fractures it can be more unclear.

Examinations of skeletal material from Lund dated to ca 1000-1500 has showed that many wounds/injuries have been treated and healed well, this includes both in infections and fractures. Some injuries have healed so well that it is hard to detect them at all, but there are exceptions.


Some diseases lead to Social exclusion for example Leprosy, the oldest written sources of leprosy is from ca 600 BC and comes from China and India. A common misperception is that the disease makes you drop your limbs, this is not the case instead it is bone resorbtion that makes it seem as the patient loses his or her limbs

The oldest finds in Sweden has been dated to ca 700 AD. The normal funerary practise of the time is cremation. The skeletal material with traces of leprosy has not been cremated, is this due to the disease? (Skeletal funerals do exist side by side with cremations through the late Iron Age though they are not as common and most of these have not had leprosy.)

In the Viking Age skeletal material from Lund ca 3-4 % show signs of leprosy.

990-1100 AD                      42/1300 individuals = 3,2 %

1100-1536 AD                    1/1500 individuals = > 1 %

This is material from within Lund which shows that not all were banished to special hospitals. These hospitals were normally placed outside of the cities. It seems as the frequency decreases during the Middle Ages, this might indicate a new view on the lepers for example that they have been forced to hospitals outside of the city.

Leprosy has existed for a long time though it is more or less non-existing in Sweden today; though as late as in 1864 a new leprosy hospital was built at Järvsö where ca 400 lepers lived. Outside of Visby at Gotland are ruins after an older leprosy hospital (St Görans? ca 1300-1540 AD).


Finds of Arteriosclerosis has been made in China (ca 2100 yrs old) and from mummies in Egypt. There are also a few finds from Scandinavia. The finds looks like a dried macaroni or a cheese doodle and has approximately that size. They are found in the cranial region and are very fragile, therefore one should be very careful when cleaning skeletal finds, and when it is done it should be done in a laboratory.

Atherosclerosis is a disease affecting arterial blood vessels. It is a chronic inflammatory response in the walls of arteries. It is commonly referred to as a “hardening” or “furring” of the arteries. It is caused by the formation of multiple plaques within the arteries.

Tooth health

Of the teeth from the Middle Ages examined by Caroline Arcini ca 40 % was affected by caries, this problem is big in both adult and milk teeth. Another big problem during this period was tooth loss.

On teeth we can find evidence of people’s habits for example smoking. Clay Tobacco Pipes gives clearly visible marks on the teeth. Findings of these markers can be dated (in Sweden) from the end of the 17th century till the 19th century. Until the 19th century it seems like it was almost exclusively a male habit.

In situations like this archaeology and ethnology has lots of information to share with each other.

Case study the Dome of Linköping

Caroline Arcini has skeletal material from 560 graves, dating to ca 1100-1810 AD, to analyze. In this case there are records such as death certificates from ca 1750 and forth that can be compared with the analyses and church books regarding who is buried where, date of birth and death etc. In other words a great part of this material comes with answers and should be possible to use as a Swedish standards.

Possibilities regarding age estimations which in turn is important concerning issues of health etc.

In a well documented material as this one can study and interpret living conditions. Here we cam find information about access to food, occupation, kinship etc. All this information is interesting when compeered to Osteological data, for examples, common traits, teeth hypolasia. The key to all this is of course dating and identifying the individuals.

When studying welfare three components are important; Age groups, how old did the population get, stature and child morality.

A part of the study will be concerning Tuberculosis. Between 1780-1810 there were 4500 deaths recorded, of these 36 (8 %) were recorded to have died from TB. An estimation is that 5-7 % would have skeletal TB and 2-3 5 TB on the spine. Of these 4500 individuals 140 has been exhumed, among these 1 can be expected to have had TB.

There are other marks than those of disease.

Arcini have been working on an article that is coming in BAR in a near future concerning man made marks on teeth, teeth mutilation in Scandinavia. In this article she has been studying 60 teeth from Gotland, 1 from Öland, 1 from Denmark and 4 from Scania. All teeth have been filed. These are among the few finds in Europe, though there are several other finds in the world.

This concludes my notes from the symposium. I’ll now start working on a summary that will be presented in the Osteological Associations annual, Benbiten, later this year.

Remember that these are notes that will be edited, I urge you to comment on anything that seems to be out of place or faulty so that I can correct this.

Magnus Reuterdahl

About Magnus Reuterdahl

I am an archaeologist/Osteologist from Sweden. My main intrest lays in north Euorpean archaeology in, preferbly the prehistory of the late iron age and the neolithic periods. I've also got a strong intrest for Chinese archaeology, especially the neolithc Yangshao culture. I also write about cultural heritage and cultural history. Mitt namn är Magnus Reuterdahl, jag är arkeolog och osteolog och arbetar företrädesvis i Sverige även om jag gjort ett par vändor till Kina. På den här bloggen skriver jag om mitt yrke, om fornlämningar, kulturarv och kulturhistoria m m. View all posts by Magnus Reuterdahl

4 responses to “Notes from the Osteological Associations 2008 symposium part 4

%d bloggers like this: