What this skeleton told us: Evidence
An older woman and 169 cm tall (5 feet 7 inches). There is evidence for a joint problem: osteochondritis dissecans. There are also degenerative changes to all of the joints with some of the worst affected being the hip joints. Tooth decay and dental plaque is present as well as evidence of tooth loss during life, and some thinning of the enamel (enamel defects, or hypoplasia). This woman also appears to be a ‘bone former’ as she has additional bone growth across much of her skeleton. A squatting facet is present in the joint at the bottom end of the shin bone (tibia), identified by the presence of a small extension to the joint surface.
Interpretation of the evidence
In Anglo-Saxon Britain, if a woman survived childhood, she could be expected to live into middle-age, provided she maintained good health and did not die during pregnancy or childbirth. This woman was significantly above average height, and died at a relatively advanced age, indicating that she was well-nourished and in good general health. However, we should remember that humans are very good at adapting to challenging times! Her enamel hypoplasia illustrates that in childhood she had a deficient diet or disease, and the plaque shows that her dental hygiene was poor. Tooth decay indicates sugar in her diet. She had evidence of osteochondritis dissecans. Today this usually affects young boys/teenagers in sport (injury to the joint). The cartilage covering the joint (a ‘padding’ for the bones) and the underlying bone has been affected. The blood supply to the joint is compromised and this leads to death of the bone and the cartilage that protects it. This condition could have caused swelling and pain and restricted movement, and later in life this can lead to osteoarthritis. The squatting facets suggest squatting for long periods of time and this might have been related to specific activities she was involved in, such as in farming.
Bed, repose, grave.