incisione cruciforme

Middle Ages and medicine: an unprecedented case of cranial surgery using a cruciform incision in Longobard Italy

Macroscopic, microscopic and computed tomography analyses of a skull found near Ascoli Piceno revealed signs of at least two surgical operations. The study, published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, was carried out by an international and multidisciplinary team coordinated by Sapienza

A new international study, coordinated by Sapienza in collaboration with Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge, the Universities of Aix-Marseille and Caen in France and University of Washington, reveals the existence of drillings in the skull of a Longobard woman, found in the cemetery of Castel Trosino, near Ascoli Piceno, central Italy.

Macroscopic, microscopic and computed tomography (CT) analyses revealed signs of at least two operations performed on the skull, including a cross-shaped surgery, shortly before the woman's death. Furthermore, thanks to a new high-resolution biochemical investigation method applied to one of the preserved teeth, specific changes in the woman's diet and mobility from early life to adulthood were reconstructed. This allowed the researchers to identify changes in her diet and environment throughout her life and to highlight the care and interest provided to her by the community.

"We found," says Ileana Micarelli of the University of Cambridge, a former postdoctoral fellow at Sapienza and first author of the study, "that the woman had survived several surgeries, having undergone long-term surgical therapy, which consisted of a series of successive drillings."

"The last surgery", concludes Giorgio Manzi of the Department of Environmental Biology, "appears to have taken place shortly before the individual's death. There are no lesions suggesting the presence of trauma, tumours, congenital diseases or other pathologies. Moreover, although it is intriguing to consider the possibility of a ritual or judicial motive, no osteological or historical evidence supports such hypotheses."

The discovery of the rare evidence of a drilling operation paves the way for future studies on the reasons and methods of treatment, as well as the caring role of the community towards the sick during the Middle Ages.



An unprecedented case of cranial surgery in Longobard Italy (6th-8th century) using a cruciform incision – Micarelli I., Strani F., Bedecarrats S., Bernardini S., Paine R.R., Bliquez L., Giostra C., Gazzaniga V., Tafuri M. A., Manzi G., International Journal of Osteoarcheology (2023)

Multi-isotope analysis of primary and secondary dentin as a mean to broaden intra-life dietary reconstruction. A case from Longobard Italy – Bernardini, S., Zeppilli C., Micarelli I., Manzi G., Tafuri M.A., International Journal of Osteoracheology, (2023)




Further Information

Giorgio Manzi
Department of Environmental Biology




Friday, 10 February 2023

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