Osteoarchaeologists at Wessex Archaeology – Jacqueline McKinley and Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy, are currently looking at the human skeletal remains from several Romano-British cemeteries, discovered during a series of large scale excavations close to Amesbury, Wiltshire.
To corroborate and help explain macroscopic evidence of pathological lesions including trauma, X-rays were taken of a selection of bones. This provided the first opportunity for the newly installed X-radiographing (X-ray) facilities to be used by our in-house technician and conservator Lynn Wootten. Free from the ties of external schedules and not having to transport the material, Lynn swiftly produced some excellent images. It was also possible to assess the results and discuss any requirement for further images, prompting speedy resolutions to our needs.
Plate 1: Vertebral body showing remnants of normal ‘honeycomb’ structure (A), and abnormal dense structure (B), Plate 2: X-ray of abnormally dense vertebra(e), Plate 3: X-ray of vertebra with normal internal structure.
The X-rays revealed some intriguing results. The porous internal structure of most bones normally resembles honeycomb (trabecular or spongy bone); in life the spaces are filled with soft fibrous collagen. In the case of the remains of a c. 40–50 year old male, porous new bone had filled the cells of the spongy bone in several skeletal elements to varying degrees. The most advanced examples include several vertebral bodies where the bone has a very dense ‘foam-like’ structure (Plate 1). The X-rays show the affected vertebrae as dense white entities with diffuse ‘fluffy’ edges (plate 2 cf plate 3), whilst the images of the skull and femur show small blooms of dense bone within the normal structure (plates 4 & 5). The evidence suggests that this man suffered from some form of progressive systemic condition.
Plate 4: X-ray of skull with blooms of dense infilling.
The osteoarchaeologists will be taking samples of the material and the high quality X-rays to the conference of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) next month, where they will discuss the evidence with other specialists.
Plate 5: X-ray of femur with blooms of dense filling.