Health and disease in the ancient Mediterranean as demonstrated through the application of anthropological, paleopathological and paleoradiological methods

Author: Elena Varotto

Varotto, Elena, 2023 Health and disease in the ancient Mediterranean as demonstrated through the application of anthropological, paleopathological and paleoradiological methods, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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The present thesis investigates health and disease in the ancient Mediterranean basin in a selected number of published cases, by applying anthropological, paleopathological and paleoradiological methodologies, in an effort to offer a comprehensive understanding of the impact of nosological entities on ancient individuals, in the light of the current international biomedical literature and the broader paleopathological context.

While the focus of the thesis is not primarily methodological in spirit, a great attention is paid to the key role played in such multidisciplinary investigations by the discipline called ‘paleoradiology’, which by adopting X-ray and CT-scan imaging allows anthropologists and paleopathologists to describe in much greater detail the architectural changes that occurred in the human skeleton and soft tissues alike, and offers a chance to digitalize bioarchaeological data and create 3D models. This is explained in the introduction to the topic, which also offers a summary of the development of the field of paleopathology and a concise analysis of its disciplinary nature.

Specifically, the research includes an assessment of the multiple presence of Klippel-Feil syndrome, a complex congenital anomaly, in the ancient Sardinian population of Alghero (16th century AD) combining anthropological and radiological methods; the transdisciplinary evaluation of the likelihood of the attribution of a skull preserved in the anatomical museum of the University of Bologna to king Athalaric (AD 516-534); the multi-level study of a case of osteoid osteoma of the frontal sinus in an individual from the late Roman empire; the analysis of prehistoric congenital anomalies of the spine from the Hypogeum of Calaforno (Sicily); the evaluation of traumatic injuries and the first ever reported case in Italy of bilateral non-osseous calcaneonavicular coalition in skeletons from the medieval Sicilian phase of the archaeological site of Troina.

To these are also added papers examining how mummies were interpreted in ancient Greece and how that civilization viewed the preservation of the body. Finally, papers are included that assess the case of the mummy Cairo CG 61076 from the Royal mummy cachette DB 320 in which an identification attempt is made, and a facial reconstruction is presented.

All these studies demonstrate that ancient populations in the Mediterranean region experienced diseases which are also found today, and this thesis furthers our understanding of paleopathology in this geographical area.

Keywords: Health, Disease, Anthropology, Paleopathology, Paleoradiology, Ancient Mediterranean

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2023
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Donald Pate