8

TRACES OF INJURY ON THE SKELETON
Although injuries to soft tissues may occasionally leave traces in the bones (e.g. in the form of ossified blood clots), the most frequent form of injury seen on ancient skeletons is bone fractures. It is to these that this chapter is devoted.
TYPES OF FRACTURES
Although fractures may occur as a result of repetitive stress (fatigue fractures), most are caused by sudden injury. Although fractures are infinitely variable in appearance most may, for convenience, be classified into a few groups based on the type of break (Figure 8.1).The type of fracture may give a clue as to the nature of the injury that caused it. Bending force or a blow at right angles to the long axis of a bone may cause a transverse fracture (Figure 8.1a), twisting force may cause a spiral fracture (Figure 8.1b). An oblique fracture (Figure 8.1c) may be caused by a combination of bending, twisting and compressive forces. Application of greater force or a crushing injury may lead to bone fragmentation—a comminuted fracture (Figure 8.1d).The above are all complete fractures—there is a complete break in the bone. In some instances the break may not extend right the way through the bone. Compression and greenstick fractures are examples of incomplete fractures. Compression fractures occur when trabecular bone is crumpled. A frequent site for this type of injury is the vertebral column: forced flexion of the spine may result in wedge-shaped crushing of a vertebral body by compression between its neighbours (Figure 8.1e). Greenstick fractures are characteristic of the bones of children. Children’s bones are more springy and resilient than those of adults. A bending force which might result in a transverse break in an adult bone may in a child result in bending and incomplete fracturing, the greenstick fracture (Figure 8.1f). In archaeological material an additional type of injury, which is probably best classified as a fracture, is sometimes found: cuts due to slicing of bone by a sharp weapon; of this type of injury, more later.
FRACTURE REPAIR
The healing of fractures in tubular bones may be divided into five stages (Figure 8.2).
1 Haematoma formation. Tearing of blood vessels in and around the broken ends results in a collection of blood (haematoma) at the fracture site. As a consequence of damage to minor blood vessels, bone within a few millimetres of the fracture site dies and is subsequently resorbed.
2 Cellular proliferation. Within eight hours of the injury, cells proliferate in the fracture area. This leads to formation of flexible, fibrous tissue which pushes aside the haematoma (which is slowly resorbed) and eventually bridges the break between the bone ends.
3 Callus formation. Osteoblasts lay down bone so that the fibrous union between the bone ends is

-162-

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The Archaeology of Human Bones
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures viii
  • Tables xii
  • Preface xiii
  • 1 - The Nature of Bones and Teeth 1
  • 2 - The Nature of an Archaeological Human Bone Assemblage 13
  • 3 - The Determination of Age and Sex 33
  • 4 - Metric Variation 74
  • 5 - Non-Metric Variation 102
  • 6 - Bone Disease 122
  • 7 - Dental Disease 146
  • 8 - Traces of Injury on the Skeleton 162
  • 9 - Chemical Analysis of Bone 182
  • 10 - The Study of Dna from Ancient Bones 197
  • 11 - Cremated Bone 207
  • Bibliography 225
  • Index 240
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