Life on horseback: palaeopathology of two Scythian skeletons from Alexandropol, Ukraine



In 2006, two skeletons were analysed that were previously excavated from the periphery of a Scythian burial mound, near the village of Alexandropol in southern Ukraine. Dated to ca. 325 BC, both remains are male. The first is that of a youth in his late teens who exhibits indications of biological stress and degenerative changes to the spine in the form of a Schmorl's node. The second is a middle-aged individual with extensive healed lesions due to trauma to the right humerus and clavicle with associated bony changes of the elbow and spine. Stable isotope analyses indicate a diet based on C3 plants. Their skeletons suggest a rigorous life on horseback. Both may have served as sacrificial victims. Historical records document the strangulation of attendants and their placement around the periphery of royal burial mounds. Grave goods suggest that both were warriors, although the youth lacks the traumatic injuries exhibited by the older male. The individuals from Alexandropol may have served a Scythian king in life and in death. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.