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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A female burial: The hobbled road to recognition.

Two burials, one male and one female, were discovered in 1999 during an excavation on Walcot Street undertaken by Bath Archaeological Trust. Both of these burials attracted a lot of interest from the public and media, including an episode of ‘Meet the Ancestors’ on BBC. One of these burials (the male from Syria) is currently on display within the museum; however the second burial is not.

I first became interested in these burials during my A Level studies; however since starting my placement at the Roman Baths my interest in the female burial has grown enormously. The female is often referred to as ‘the female buried with the Syrian man’. I dislike this term as I feel like it means the interest lies primarily with the male, and the female does not get the interest or recognition she deserves so I prefer to refer to her as ‘my favourite lady’!
The cranium of my favourite lady

A number of interesting things can be discovered through the study of the skeleton, and luckily 90% of my favourite lady’s skeleton is present. From looking at the pelvis there is no doubt that this individual is female and from studying the length of her femur it is estimated that she was roughly 5ft tall. The wear on her teeth places her between 26-45 years old, with a closer estimation of 30 years old.

The mandible of my favourite lady. The wear on the teeth was examined to estimate her age

The pelvis of my favourite lady, used to determine her sex

Another interesting aspect of this skeleton is the severe compound fracture on both her tibia and fibula which would have pierced her skin and caused a lot of damage. There is evidence for very minimal treatment of this injury, whereas today’s treatment for such a severe fracture would be urgent surgery, antibiotics to treat infection, and internal/external fixtures. It is incredible to think that my favourite lady had such minimal treatment on such a severe injury!

Left and right tibia of my favourite lady. The left tibia shows the extent of the compound fracture. Note that the bones have fully fused together but are still very wonky!

By looking at the fracture of her leg we can tell that this wasn’t the cause of death as the bones had enough time to fuse back together (albeit very wonky!) She went on to develop osteoarthritis due to the fact that her left leg was shorter than her right, causing her to hobble. Osteoarthritis is evident on bones as they take on a polished effect on the joint surface where two bones are rubbing together.

Left: A talus showing no signs of osteoarthiritis. Right: The talus of my favourite lady, showing polished bone

The image above shows a comparison between the left talus of an individual who shows no signs of osteoarthritis (left) compared to the left talus of my favourite lady (right). The joint surfaces on my favourite lady’s talus have taken on the polished effect which is common in osteoarthritis.

This is just scratching the surface of all the interesting things we can learn from my favourite lady. Next week’s blog will be looking at the results from multiple specialist studies conducted on her remains!

Dulcie Newbury

Collections Intern.

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