Enthesopathies (lesions of muscular insertions) as indicators of the activities of Neolithic Saharan populations



Enthesopathies are bony lesions involving the sites of insertion of muscles or ligaments. Those caused by hyperactivity of the relevant muscles may be distinguished clearly from those of metabolic or inflammatory origin. Observations from sporting and occupational medicine indicate that specific enthesopathies are correlated with different activities. Examination of the enthesopathies present on two groups of well-preserved neolithic skeletons from separate regions of the Sahara with different paleoenvironments show that overall 20% of the skeletons presented lesions. Three different forms of enthesopathy involved the arm, principally the elbow, and may be tentatively correlated with javelin throwing, wood cutting, and archery. Two types of lesion involving the foot were observed in skeletons from a hunter-gatherer population and may be correlated with much walking or running over hard ground. I suggest that the analysis of such lesions on ancient skeletons may, in concert with other archaeological data, throw light on the activities of ancient people.