While the field of bioarchaeology is all about the lives and deaths of ancient human groups, sometimes individual skeletons stick out as particularly intriguing, painting a picture of adversity and hardship in the past. In Bronze Age Bahrain, the skeleton of a woman with a disability was discovered amid a dozen elaborate, imported pottery vessels. But the story of those bones – which are long lost – is even more intriguing. The older man, found in a small cemetery south of Naples, had almost no teeth and suffered from osteoporosis. And that’s a wrap for skeleton news for 2016!
1. Headless Roman Gladiator
The skeleton from Roman-era York in England was discovered more than a decade ago. But the most interesting fact revealed this year is that he wasn’t found anywhere in Europe, but according to the ancient DNA he may have been from Palestine or Saudi Arabia.
2. Bronze age woman with arm disability
The skeleton of a woman with arm disability was discovered in Bronze age Bahrain. Her arm had numerous deformities, making her hand rotate outward and she was also pigeon toed. Her burial gives us insight into how disability was dealt with in the past.
3. Castrato Singer Paccherotti
The skeleton of the world famous mezzo-soprano singer Gaspare Pacchierotti revealed not only the fact that he was castrated at a young age, but also showed that professional singing career has changed his chest and arm muscles as well. The standard posture for opera singers, which opens up the throat and allowed Pacchierotti to optimize his soprano voice, caused changes to his bones from overuse of muscles important for holding the head and neck in position.
4. Casualty of the war of 1812
The researchers found in the mass grave in Ontario, Canada the remains of soldiers who have been killed in the Battle of Stoney Creek – and the skeleton had evidence of buckshot injuries on his hip bones. What is even mysterious is the fact that it was unclear whether these were American, British or maybe Canadian military.
5. Medieval Polish Giantess
The remains of 7’2 woman have been published this year while her skeleton was still lying in the grave. Discovered woman suffered from acromegaly and gigantism, which caused a number of other issues like spinal arthritis and healed fractures. But the fact that she made it until adulthood signals about the fact that her health was well taken care of during the life.
6. Antikythera Shipwrecked Sailor
On August 31, researchers diving in the wreck uncovered several bones from the remains of a skeleton buried in the seafloor under more than a foot of pottery shards. Since its discovery, they have retrieved a skull, part of a jaw with teeth, and bones from the arms, ribs and legs. Was this sailor aboard the ship when it sank, laden with amphorae, marble statues, coins, jewelry, and glass objects? Was he aware of the Antikythera Mechanism aboard? Analyses will hopefully be forthcoming, and DNA in particular may reveal some clues to the crew of this ill-fated voyage.
7. Amelia Earhart’s Bones
The partial skeleton of a castaway found in the 1940s on the Pacific island Nikumaroro shows some similarities to Amelia Earhart, scientists say. Though extensive searches have failed to turn up the bones, scientists have found a record of the bones’ measurements taken by a British doctor in 1941, they said. And those measurements match up with Earhart’s build, according to Richard Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which launched a project to piece together Earhart’s disappearance in 1988.
8. Tiptoeing Roman Man
A hip fracture in an ancient Roman man, caused by a fall from a great height, resulted in a shortened right leg and a need to walk on tiptoe. The older man, found in the cemetery of Naples missed almost all teeth and also suffered from osteoporosis. But the hip fracture, which happened several years before his death, resulted in compensation on the opposite side – he walked on tiptoe, and likely used a cane for assistance.
9. Woman felled by Plague of Justinian
Recent bacterial research has linked the Justinian Plague to the world’s most infamous affliction, the Black Death, which claimed the lives of up to 200 million people in the 14th century, as well as the third pandemic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Scientists investigating DNA from the teeth of nineteen skeletons from the sixth-century German cemetery Aschheim confirmed the presence of Yersinia pestis, the bacteria associated with the bubonic and other plagues.
10. Medieval Portuguese Foot Fungus
Madura foot is a fungal disease which used to effect agricultural workers in sub-tropical area of the world. But it could almost never be identified on the ancient skeletons. A study published this year reveals a man who lived with mycetoma in 14th century southern Portugal. In the past, before the advent of good antifungals and antibiotics, Madura foot would have been nearly impossible to get rid of, except by amputation. Even more interesting about this skeleton is that someone drilled into his head, as an early form of cranial surgery. Could the foot issue be related to the skull surgery? It still remains as a mystery.
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