Palaeopathological investigations in the Mediterranean Basin from Prehistory to the Early Modern Age: A multidisciplinary approach

Author: Francesco M Galassi

Galassi, Francesco M, 2022 Palaeopathological investigations in the Mediterranean Basin from Prehistory to the Early Modern Age: A multidisciplinary approach, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis explores the application of a multidisciplinary approach to palaeopathology in order to

offer a broader perspective on the antiquity and morphological presentation of pathological conditions

in the past of humankind. Besides the traditional application of anatomical and anthropological

methods, this work examines the implementation of historical, literary, archival, artistic, numismatic

as well as palaeoradiological and isotopic approaches with the aim of presenting an analysis of ancient

pathologies in the region of the Mediterranean Basin from Prehistory to the Early Modern Age which

does not only take into account the traces of diseases left on human remains but also, despite some

understandable limitations, the palaeoepidemiological presentation of these conditions, hence also

exploring signs and symptoms of past diseases.

Building on 20th century palaeopathology pioneer Eve Cockburn’s suggestion about adopting such a

multifaceted and integrated approach, the thesis investigates, through twelve papers, the pathological

conditions encountered in the Carthaginian general Hannibal, in king Ariarathes IV of Cappadocia, a

case of auricular haematoma sculpted in a Hellenistic representation of an ancient boxer, an instance

of poliomyelitis depicted on an ancient Greek vase, the historical presentation and impact of the major

epidemics in the history of humankind as well as focusing on the history and evolution of two closely

related infectious diseases, chickenpox and shingles.

Moreover, the thesis tries to shed light on the anthropological and palaeopathological conundrum of

the skull attributed to the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles, presents the earliest known case of

gigantism in the skeletal remains ascribed to the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Sa-Nakht, adds, through

a palaeoradiological approach, fresh evidence on the presence and antiquity of frontal sinus osteoma

in ancient Egyptian remains, and describes pathological presentations and anatomical non-metric

traits (particularly a case of large bregmatic bone) in skeletons from a Late Roman Sicilian necropolis.

Finally, in the last article, the thesis integrates the previously discussed methodologies with the

important application of isotopic investigations, especially 14C dating, in order to increase

palaeopathology’s capacity to reconstruct the historical progression of diseases by offer a detailed

chronological framework.

Keywords: Palaeopathogy; Bioarchaeology; Archaeology; Art; History of Medicine; Mediterranean Basin.

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Professor F. Donald Pate