Human Bone Gallery - Trauma: wounds

Unhealed cuts

Weapon cuts

Site: Harroway Farm, Andover, Hampshire.
Period: Unknown.
Excavator: Hampshire County Museum Service.
Published: archive report.
Skeleton: ?male, c.18-20 years.

Catalogue entry: This skeleton was very interesting pathologically, showing a number of unhealed cut marks, one of which is likely to have been fatal. Unfortunately the leg bones were missing, so it is not possible to be certain of the full extent of his injuries.

All the wounds were on the left side of the body, and at least two were made from behind. These were a 36mm-long cut on the back of the head, at the left side of the occiptal, which had removed a flake of bone below but did not pierce the brain, and a cut through the left transverse process of the sixth thoracic vertebra, which severed the tip from the rest of the bone. None of the other vertebrae or the ribs appeared to be affected, but preservation was not good in this area.

Another cut had sliced through the left hand from the palmar side, removing half of the middle finger, the whole index finger, and nicking the metacarpal of the thumb. The fatal wound was probably the one cutting through the left wrist. This cut straight through the end of the ulna and halfway through the radius, possibly breaking the rest of the bone, and is unlikely to have missed the ulnar artery. Unless there was another wound elsewhere in the body which avoided marking the bones which have survived, it is likely that this individual bled to death, perhaps after being rendered unconscious by the blow to the head. It is unfortunate that his skeleton was not better preserved.

Depressed skull fracture

Depressed Skull Fracture

Site: The Hirsel churchyard, Coldstream, Scotland.
Period: Medieval.
Excavator: Prof. R.J. Cramp, Durham University.
Published: forthcoming (Historic Scotland?).
Skeleton: male in middle-age.

Catalogue entry: This head wound consisted of a depression on the frontal bone with straight edges on three sides. It was 69mm wide along the coronal suture, narrowing to 24mm wide in mid-frontal. A split or cut ran down the left side of the skull just posterior to the coronal suture, and showed evidence of healing. This individual also had two ankylosed cervical vertebral bodies (C6-7) and a detached neural arch of the fifth lumbar vertebra. These lesions could be congenital, but they are also consistent with trauma and may have occurred at the same time as the skull fracture. The fracture was healed but had left an indentation on the top of the head. It may have been the result of direct violence, but could equally have been due to an accidental blow from a heavy object.

Weapon injury

Weapon Cut to Skull

Site: Crown & Anchor, Ipswich, Suffolk.
Period: Late Saxon or Medieval.
Excavator: Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service.
Published: archive report.
Skeleton: female, young.

Catalogue entry: The most spectacular pathology found in this small group was in the form of two unhealed cuts running diagonally across the top of the skull 0168. The skull was disarticulated, but the cuts are unlikely to be post-interment since a spade would not make such clean incisions (although it is not possible to rule this out completely). If the wounds occurred in life they would almost certainly have been the cause of death, but there may have been other wounds in the rest of the body which could have penetrated other vital organs. The main problem with this diagnosis is the difficulty involved in making the second cut once the victim had, presumably, fallen to the floor.