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Keywords:

  • fracture;
  • palaeopathology;
  • ribs;
  • historic cemetery

Abstract

Investigation of palaeopathological fractures has been shown to provide important information on past societies. However, despite the fact that rib fractures are amongst the most commonly recorded types of fractures in archaeological bone, little attention has been paid to them. Although there will be sites with badly preserved ribs, making their study difficult, this will not always be the case. Recent clinical investigations have highlighted the potential significance of rib fractures with regard to morbidity and mortality, and their importance in relation to health is now appreciated. This study investigates rib fractures in 352 adults from St. Martin's churchyard, Birmingham, England. The crude prevalence of rib fractures was found to be 15.6% and the true prevalence rate 2.3%. The majority of the fractures occurred in males, and those buried in vaults were less likely to have a fracture than individuals from earth-cut graves. In 11 individuals the fractures were healing at the time of death, and in these cases death was probably related to one of the complications that are frequently linked to fractured ribs. Certain types of accidents may have been linked to these more serious fractures, as 70% occurred in the same anatomical area. Other rib fractures were associated with pathological conditions, such as osteomalacia and osteoporosis. Overall, the study of the rib fractures in this collection provided valuable information that aided interpretation of the lifeways of individuals investigated. It is argued that where preservation permits, studies of fractures in archaeological bone should include ribs. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.