Bear phalanx traumatically introduced into a living human: prehistoric evidence
School of Science
International Journal of Paleopathology
Traumatically induced skeletal injuries are common and can be ascribed to a normal range of events occurring in an individual's lifetime. A subset of these trauma-induced injuries provides enhanced insight into cultural history. Such cases might include those referable to medico-surgical and religious/ritualistic practices. We describe prehistoric evidence and cultural implications of the traumatic insertion of an Ursusmanual phalanx into the elbow of a living human. The injury healed and the phalanx remained in situ until death.
The individual derives from the Ellis Landing shellmound and dates to a subphase of the Middle Period (≈500BC–300AD) in the California cultural sequence. The remains are of a 30–40 year-old female. Comparative data on arm morphology and pathological conditions present were collected (n = 159). Three Ursus subspecies (n = 15) were examined to identify the taxon represented by the phalanx.
The described individual was probably wearing bear paw ornaments at the time she was crushed by a heavy object. During this event, a bear claw was driven into her cubital fossa, the basal phalangeal tubercle being impressed into the humerus. The wound healed completely. The presence of Ursus body parts indicates an elevated societal role for this female; most likely she was a shaman or healer.
Prehistoric trauma, Shaman, Bear doctor, Societal roles, Female healers
SMC Affiliated Work
Rebecca Jabbour (Biology): “Bear phalanx traumatically introduced into a living human: prehistoric evidence.” with Richards GD, Ojeda HM, Ibarra CL, Horton CF, in the International Journal of Paleopathology 3(1): 48-53 (2013). doi:10.1016/j.ijpp.2013.01.001
Richards, Gary D.; Ojeda, Hillary M.; Jabbour, Rebecca; Ibarra, Caitlin L.; and Horton, Caroline F.. Bear phalanx traumatically introduced into a living human: prehistoric evidence (2013). International Journal of Paleopathology. 3 (1), 48-53. 10.1016/j.ijpp.2013.01.001 [article]. https://digitalcommons.stmarys-ca.edu/school-science-faculty-works/70