Ancient parish cemetery and a rare archaeological case of a radioulnar synostosis in Virton (prov. Luxembourg)

Traces of an old parish church and its cemetery are sometimes scarce and tough to identify, especially when the cemetery is relocated to the outside of the town... along with some of the burials. Such relocation of parish cemeteries may result in several burials remaining at the previous location, possibly forgotten.

An example of this was seen in the South of Belgium, at Virton. The earliest tombs of the cemetery date back to the 13th century and the more recent ones to the 18th century.
Denis Henrotay and his team (SPW-Archaeology) excavated the area and managed to identify the remains of the old parish church underneath the Great Place (before it was renovated). The building was destroyed but the tombs helped preserve a rough outline of it.


Anthropological analysis recognized a rare anomaly

At least 68 individuals - adults and a few children - were identified from the skeletons excavated, underlining almost 30 remaining burials.

Various stress indicators and pathologies affected some of the adults.

Among them, one individual (48) is particularly interesting: besides exhibiting signs of caries and osteoarthritis, a young adult presents fused radii and ulnae (forearms' bones) at the level of the elbow joints (bilateral proximal radioulnar synostosis). This condition disasbled Individual 48 to extend both forearms and largely restricted movements of the elbows and shoulders. It is also worth to note that this is the only archaeological case reported in Belgium.

The burial did not, however, show any sign of difference in the funerary treatment, suggesting this individual was probably considered the same way as others, in death if not in life.


Sources :

*Déom H., 2015. Études anthropologiques des sépultures mérovingiennes de Saint-Léger et du cimetière médiéval de Virton. In Frébutte C. (dir.), Pré-Actes des Journées d'Archéologie en Wallonie, Rochefort 2015, Namur : éd. Service public de Wallonie (Rapports, Archéologie, 1), p. 75-76.

*Déom H., 2015. Une analyse particulière pour les squelettes de Virton (province du Luxembourg), Lettre du Patrimoine 39, p. 10.

*Henrotay D., 2014. Virton/Virton. Découverte de l'ancienne église Saint-Laurent, Chronique de l'Archéologie Wallonne 21, p. 237-240.


Author: Hélène Déom, freelance physical anthropologist & archaeologist (Prov. Luxembourg)

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