Survival to amputation in pre-antibiotic era: a case study from a Longobard necropolis (6th-8th centuries AD)

J Anthropol Sci. 2018 Dec 31;96:185-200. doi: 10.4436/JASS.96001. Epub 2018 Apr 10.


The Longobard necropolis of Povegliano Veronese dates from the 6th to the 8th centuries AD. Among the 164 tombs excavated, the skeleton of an older male shows a well-healed amputated right forearm. The orientation of the forearm fracture suggests an angled cut by a single blow. Reasons why a forearm might be amputated include combat, medical intervention, and judicial punishment. As with other amputation cases reported in literature, this one exhibits both healing and osteoblastic response. We argue that the forelimb stump morphology suggests the use of a prosthesis. Moreover, dental modification of RI2 shows considerable wear and smoothing of the occlusal surface, which points to dental use in attaching the prosthesis to the limb. Other indications of how this individual adjusted to his amputated condition includes a slight change in the orientation of the right glenoid fossa surface, and thinning of right humeral cortical bone. This is a remarkable example in which an older male survived the loss of a forelimb in pre-antibiotic era. We link archaeological remains found in the tomb (buckle and knife) with the biological evidence to show how a combined bioarchaeological approach can provide a clearer interpretation of the life history of an individual.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Amputation / history*
  • Animals
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Artificial Limbs / history*
  • Burial / history*
  • Forearm / pathology
  • Forearm Injuries / pathology*
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radius / pathology
  • Tooth / pathology
  • Ulna / pathology