The perks of such methods
Indeed, traumatic injuries - visible on human bones - can provide information regarding cause, manner of death, intensity, nature of armed conflicts as well as intentionality of blows, fighting techniques and equipment involved. Microscopic and digital images usually enables to identify more precise details for each injury than macroscopic evaluation alone.
The very first aim of this study was to test the relative accuracy of macroscopic versus microscopic examination for characterizing certain features of trauma such as category, lesion type, weapon class, direction, and timing of injury.
The selected mass grave was composed of an unusual number of individuals killed during a single event and buried together in one burial in Sandbjerget (Denmark). Discovered in 1994, it contained at least 60 individuals, exclusively adult males. This demographic profile is consistent with a conflict episode. Based on state of preservation, a sample of 45 individuals were selected for the study. Radiocarbon dated this assemblage around AD 1300-1350. Nine other assemblages from (post)-Medieval Europe are considered as battle-related and reported in the literature.
Every trauma was recorded macroscopically then microscopically from casts. Relevant comparisons and statistics were applied to the results in order to challenge them and identify significances regarding injuries’ distribution pattern and the prevalence of traumatic lesions.
Lesions were distinguished between antemortem, perimortem and postmortem. Features of sharp force trauma were characterized with linear cut marks, lesion types, deducable class of weapon and directions of force. No blunt force trauma was observed.
The following limits have to be considered for this study: selection of a sample from the assemblage, methods applied, state of preservation and taphonomic processes (soil pressure, superposition of the bodies within the grave). It is possible that some lesions were missed. Thus, prevalence rate of injuries might be underestimated.
Age distribution of the assemblage is mostly middle-aged adults, i.e. 30 to 40 years old.
Overall, 201 lesions were identified which correspond to 4.46 per individual, reflecting a high prevalence of violence-related injuries. Among them, 68 traumatic lesions were analysed by both macroscopic and microscopic methods. They were mostly perimortem except a few, that were antemortem. Injuries were mostly localized on the cranial region, predominantly right-sided on the parietal. Some posterior lesions were observed as well. As to the postcranial skeleton, injuries were particularly localized on joints. Lower limbs exhibit a higher frequency of trauma, compared to the upper limbs. All perimortem injuries were sharp force traumas, most of which were penetrating defects, inflicted by a long-heavy weapon.