Broken ribs: Paleopathological analysis of costal fractures in the human identified skeletal collection from the Museu Bocage, Lisbon, Portugal (late 19th to middle 20th centuries)


  • Vítor Matos

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    1. Centro de Investigação em Antropologia e Saúde, Department of Anthropology, University of Coimbra, Coimbra 3000-056, Portugal
    • Departamento de Antropologia, Universidade de Coimbra, Coimbra 3000-056, Portugal
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Although rarely reported in the anthropological literature, rib fractures are commonly found during the analysis of human skeletal remains of past and modern populations. This lack of published data precludes comparison between studies and restricts an accurate understanding either of the mechanisms involved in thoracic injuries or their impact on past societies. The present study aimed: 1) to report rib fracture prevalence in 197 individuals, 109 males, and 88 females, with ages at death ranging from 13 to 88 years old, from the Human Identified Skeletal Collection, Museu Bocage, Portugal (late 19th-middle 20th centuries); 2) to test the hypothesis that a higher prevalence of rib stress fractures existed in the 133 individuals who died from respiratory diseases, in a period before antibiotics. The macroscopic analysis revealed 23.9% (n = 47) of individuals with broken ribs. 2.6% (n = 124) out of 4,726 ribs observed were affected. Males presented more rib fractures, and a significantly higher prevalence was noted for older individuals. Fractures were more frequently unilateral (n = 34), left sided (n = 19) and mainly located on the shaft of ribs from the middle thoracic wall. Nineteen individuals presented adjacent fractured ribs. Individuals who died from pulmonary diseases were not preferentially affected. However, a higher mean rate of fractures was found in those who died from pneumonia, a scenario still common nowadays. Since rib involvement in chest wall injury and its related outcomes are important issues both for paleopathology and forensic anthropology, further investigations are warranted. Am J Phys Anthropol 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.