Julie Thomas discusses the Palaeopathology of an Exceptional Tomb 21

Jullie Thomas in the anthropological laboratory of The Sanisera Field School

Jullie Thomas in the anthropological laboratory of The Sanisera Archaeology Institute

In 1985, archaeologists found an unusual cist tomb while salvaging Las Huertas, a 5th to 7th Century necropolis in La Roda de Andalucía, Spain (Guerrero Misa and Ventura Martinez, 1985: 334). Four large pieces of limestone covered Tomb 21; one had been lowered to accommodate a secondary burial of a small child.  While most cist tombs on the site had earthen interior walls, the walls in Tomb 21 consisted of fragmented ceramics, bricks and small stones. Rather than the normal soil and rubble mixture encountered elsewhere, the grave fill in Tomb 21 contained large amounts of ash and fragments of pottery, possibly deliberately buried with the individual (Guerrero Misa and Ventura Martinez, 1985: 334). When archaeologists uncovered the individual interred in the tomb, they were surprised to find an elaborate arrangement of medium sized rocks on its chest and abdomen. They were unable to discover any additional information.


Macroscopic examination of the skeletal remains of Tomb 21 confirmed that it was a single inhumation containing an adult, most likely aged 50 years or older at the time of death (Baker et al, 2005; Roberts, 2009; Walker, 1988). An attempt was made to determine sex using cranial and pelvic morphology; unfortunately, results proved to be ambiguous or counter-indicatory, with scores ranging from 1 (definitely female) to 4 (probable male) (Buikstra and Ubelaker, 1994; Roberts, 2008). Preliminary palaeopathological analyses found that the lower secondary premolars and all molars had been lost before death, with complete alveolar resorption. Cervical vertebrae from the upper spine showed extensive bone growth and deterioration, resulting in the fusion of at least three vertebrae, a condition associated with the sero-negative spondyloarthritedes (SpA), and the additional collapse of at least two verterbral bodies, or what is known as kyphosis (Waldron, 2009). In life, this person would have had a permanently hunched position with limited, if any, movement of the neck. We will continue our investigation to discover more about this unique individual, and others, interred at Las Huertas Necropolis in La Roda de Andalucía.


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