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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Charlotte Roberts

Judd, M.A. & Roberts, C.A. (1998). Fracture patterns at the medieval leper hospital in Chichester. American journal of physical anthropology 105(1): 43-55.

Author(s) from Durham


Humans are constantly at risk of bone fractures, not only when threatened by personal violence, but also by the challenge of daily living. Because fractures are a cross-cultural phenomenon and are one of the more commonly observed skeletal lesions in archaeological collections, their presence provides a unique opportunity to compare living conditions, and thereby assess fracture risk in coexisting cultures. This study analyzed long bone fracture patterns of 212 sexed adults from the medieval leper hospital of St. James and St. Mary Magdalene in Chichester, England. The comparison of this hospital sample to other British medieval skeletal samples examined the level of health manifest in fracture etiology. The fracture frequency for this sample was 15.1%, with males accounting for 85.4% of the fractures. The fracture frequencies from the samples not affiliated with hospitals ranged from 3.3 to 5.6%. Because medieval urban lifestyle was notoriously difficult due to inadequate sanitation and living conditions, the overall health of the population at large was inferior, placing all at similar fracture risk. Therefore, more specific complications associated with the fractures were examined. Osseous modifications of the skeletons due to lepromatous leprosy were associated with 28% of individuals sustaining fractures. However, persons with the milder tuberculoid leprosy do not exhibit skeletal lesions, but are more prone to accident due to the earlier loss of sensory perception and visual impairment. It is argued that the presence of leprosy is underestimated in archaeological populations and may be a major contributing factor to the prevalence of fracture resulting from accidental falls.