Fractures

Evidence of healed fractures has been reported for numerous skeletal series throughout the Americas. Few workers, however, have attempted to develop a bio-behavioral model for interpreting etiology, through either a rigorous diachronic approach or the development of an epidemiological viewpoint. Exceptional perspectives have been developed by R. Steinbock (1976), who surveys temporally sequential North America samples, and by C. Lovejoy and K. Heiple (1981) in an intensive investigation of the Libben site (900-1200 B.P.).

Using the individual as the basis for comparison, Steinbock reports postcranial fracture frequencies for 12 skeletal series from North America (V.8.1). The highest fracture frequency occurred in Middle and Late Archaic populations - those considered to be hunters and gatherers. Given our previous model derived from ethnographically documented groups, this observation is not unexpected. As an aside, G. Steele (personal communication) noted that the only pathological condition in a survey of Paleo-

Table V.8.1. Healed fracture frequencies for North American prehistoric remains

Population Percent

Middle Archaic

Late Archaic

Robinson site, Tenn. 9.6

Morse site, 111. 9.7

Woodland

Tollifero site, Va. 5.4

Steuben site, 111. 5.5

Klunk site, 111. 5.0

Mississippian

Clarksville site, Va. 3.9

Dickson Mounds, 111. 3.3

Emmons site, 111. 1.2

Source: After Steinbock (1976, 23).

Indian remains that pre-dates 8500 B.P. is a healed fracture in the right eighth rib of a skeleton from the Pelican Rapids site, Minnesota.

As noted by Steinbock (1976), and emphasized by Lovejoy and Heiple (1981), Steinbock's frequencies may be unreasonably low, due to his method of reporting. Steinbock's use of the individual as the unit for analysis led him to include incomplete remains whose missing elements might have presented healed fractures. Also, as pointed out by this author (1981a), Middle Archaic cemetery samples can be segregated by health status. Thus, archeological recovery may have emphasized those areas where individuals with fractures were more likely to be buried.

Lovejoy and Heiple (1981), basing their analysis on the Late Woodland Libben site of northern Ohio, report that each individual within this series had a 45 percent chance of fracturing a major limb long bone. The clavicle was most frequently broken, with the humerus showing the fewest healed fractures. The rather high rate of forearm fractures is attributed to falls rather than to conflict owing to the low prevalence (n = 2) of classic "parry fractures." That only two cranial fractures were observed in the series also supports this conclusion. Although these data have undoubtedly been affected by the ease of reduction for each of the elements surveyed, it is very clear that the Libben series represents a sample for which there is little evidence of conflict.

After developing a years-at-risk analysis, Lovejoy and Heiple (1981) concluded that there were two periods within the Libben life span in which the risk of fracture was greatest: 10 to 25 years years and 45 plus years. Youthful activity and senescence undoubtedly explain this pattern.

A contrasting picture is presented by the Norris Farms No. 36 sample described by G. Milner, V. Smith, and E. Anderson (1991). Slightly more recent than the Libben sample, this Oneota series is derived from a late prehistoric population that lived near major Mississippian settlements. Healed fractures within the Norris Farms No. 36 series include many in the trunk and upper limb, with the skull also heavily involved. In addition, 33 individuals, approximately 12.5 percent (33/264), show evidence of mutilation, including scalping, decapitation and postcranial dismemberment, actual injuries, such as projectile points in bone and spiral fractures, or both forms of damage to bone. Many of these skeletons, as well as 10 others for a total of 43, exhibit carnivore gnawing that is thought to have occurred after death but before the recovery of the body for burial in the village cemetery. Those who were older than 15 years at the time of death are evenly divided between men (18) and women (18). This represents about 33 percent of the total male subset of the population and 29 percent of the female subset. The male proportion is not unexpected in tribal-level societies; however, the female frequency is extremely high, suggesting the presence of intensive raiding and social conflict.

The contrasting patterns presented by the Libben and Norris Farms No. 36 series underscore the impact that life-style and living conditions can have on the expression of trauma in prehistoric remains. Just as there appears to be no typical late prehistoric pattern, it would be foolhardy to generalize concerning any other temporal or chronological unit without contextual data.

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