What is it about?

A lower-back trait is observed in 16% of the skeletal remains from two warships. Clinical and archaeological studies provide rates from 1 to 40%. We test our findings to see they are explained by the age at death of crew members.

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Why is it important?

Fusion between the lowest lumbar vertebra and the sacrum is a genetic trait and is more prevalent in certain populations. Reported rates for this naturally occurring anomaly are very low for archaeological skeletons, and much higher for living individuals, where this can be recorded in up to 40% of lower-back-pain sufferers. Clinical studies consider almost every form of this trait as “sacralized”, possibly due to limited visibility on x-rays, as compared to dry bone, where fully fused elements are more easily counted. Yet some archaeological reports also blur the different forms. If findings are not comparable, we may miss population affinity.

Perspectives

While examining skeletal remains from the 16th century warship Mary Rose, I began to realize I was seeing a surprising number of unusually fused lower spines. We found the same numbers in the Swedish warship Kronan remains. I really enjoyed trying to work out why this trait is so much more common in crew members from these ships, as compared to other archaeological remains, and also why clinical studies report rates that are so much higher! This was a fascinating intellectual puzzle, and i really loved Stockholm. I hope to visit Sweden again.

Rose Drew
University of Winchester

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This page is a summary of: Sacralization in the Mary Rose and Kronan assemblages: An inconsistently recorded anomaly, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, April 2021, Wiley, DOI: 10.1002/oa.2982.
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