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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Charlotte Roberts

Plomp, K.A., Roberts, C.A. & Strand Viðarsdόttir, U. (2015). Morphological Characteristics of Healthy and Osteoarthritic Joint Surfaces in Archaeological Skeletons. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 25(4): 515-527.

Author(s) from Durham


Osteoarthritis is a major health concern in living populations, as well as being one of the most common pathological lesions identified in the archaeological record. The aetiology of the disease remains unclear, with a multi-factorial influence of physical strain, age, genetics, and obesity. Previous studies have identified a relationship between the presence of knee osteoarthritis on the distal femoral joint and the morphology of the intercondylar notch, patellar groove, and medial condyle. The current study expands this research to investigate the relationship between distal femoral, distal humeral, and proximal ulnar joint morphology and osteoarthritis with 3D shape analysis techniques. These methods provide a more detailed analysis of joint morphology in order to determine any relationship between 3D shape and osteoarthritis. The results indicate a complex relationship between joint shape and knee osteoarthritis, with eburnated right femora showing a statistically significant association. The shapes associated with eburnated or affected femoral joints can be explained by osteophyte development, and therefore likely represent systematic shape changes and not a particular joint shape predisposing individuals to the condition. There was no identifiable relationship found in the proximal ulna or distal humerus, indicating that joint shape is unlikely to influence the development of the condition in the elbow joint and that any shape changes produced by osteoarthritis are not systematic or quantifiable. The joints analysed in this study were highly influenced by asymmetry, sexual dimorphism, and allometry, resulting in a small sample size of affected joints in many datasets. Further analyses of large skeletal samples are needed to more thoroughly investigate the possible relationship of distal femoral joint shape and osteoarthritis.


Article first published online: 19 May 2013