The story of a Lombard warrior dated to the VI century: the amputated forearm and a blade as a prosthesis

Preserved at the “G. Sergi "della Sapienza, the body of the warrior, who lacks the right hand, the wrist and part of the forearm, is an important testimony of perfectly healed amputation and modern care practices

The Laboratory of Paleoanthropology and Bioarchaeology of the Department of Environmental Biology of Sapienza University of Rome has analyzed the skeletal remains of an ancient Lombard warrior found in a necropolis in Veneto and preserved at the Museum of Anthropology "G. Sergi" of Sapienza, directed by Giorgio Manzi. Studies conducted together with the Department of Antiquity, the Doctorate School in Archaeology of Sapienza, in collaboration with Cattolica University of Milan, have shown that the body of the warrior, who lacks the right hand, wrist and part of the forearm, is an important testimony to perfectly healed amputation and modern care practices.

The researchers took into consideration different circumstances to explain the causes that may have led to the amputation of the forearm. Further, they discussed the outcomes, namely how, 1300 years ago in a prebiotic era, one could survive to such a risky operation. "The knife was horizontal - Ileana Micarelli, first author of the work, explains - leaning against the pelvis while it is usually buried beside the corpse. The right arm was bent at 90 degrees, with the radio and ulna cut. In place of the hand was a metal buckle with traces of organic material, leather or wood. The amputation took place with a single blow and without anesthesia.

The study, published in the Journal of Anthropological Sciences (JASs), suggested that the man belonged to the first generation of Lombards coming to Italy from Eastern Europe, and that he might have suffered the amputation of his forearm due to a horse fall, a battle wound that had become infected, or a judicial punishment. The skeletal remains show a complete healing with evident bone and dental defects that can be recognized as consequences of the adaptation of the loss of the hand: the bones of the scapula have an unnatural orientation, probably assumed after the accident when, instead of grasping the objects, the Lombard had to spear them or push them. The upper right incisor is also extremely worn suggesting that the man used his teeth to bind the prosthesis and perform other everyday gestures.

The fact that ulna and radius have welded together perfectly, forming a callus on contact with the prosthesis, and that there is no trace of infection, shows that the man was treated with care. It is noteworthy that the Lombards used herbal balsams for antiseptic and antihemorrhagic purposes. "Surviving the loss of a forearm at a time when antibiotics were not available - Micarelli concludes - shows a strong sense of attention and constant care from the community in which the man lived. Privileges that approach the idea of modern welfare. Moreover, such promptness would make it possible to exclude legal punishment as a cause for the amputation".


Thursday, 12 April 2018

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