Biological and social implications of a medieval burial from Cyprus for understanding leprosy in the past

Brenda Baker, Katelyn L. Bolhofner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

An early 15th-century burial from a basilica at Polis Chrysochous provides the first archaeological evidence of leprosy in Cyprus, extending the temporal depth and illuminating the biological and social history of this disease on the island. The skeletal remains of a young adult female (age 20-34 years) display pathognomonic features of lepromatous leprosy including maxillary alveolar resorption with antemortem loss of all but one incisor, remodeling of the margin of the nasal sill and resorption of the anterior nasal spine, with diaphyseal remodeling of hand and foot phalanges and the distal third through fifth metatarsals of both feet. Periosteal reaction on distal tibiae and the majority of both fibulae demonstrates tracking of inflammation from the feet to lower legs. Use wear on the remaining maxillary incisor signals participation in common occupational activities in life. Although disfigured and debilitated, burial inside the narthex of the basilica indicates that the community did not ostracize this woman in death. This contextualized analysis provides insight into the biological and social consequences of living with leprosy and illustrates the changing attitudes toward those afflicted with this disease in Cyprus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-24
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Paleopathology
Volume4
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014

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Keywords

  • Differential diagnosis
  • Disease experience
  • Mediterranean
  • Paleopathology
  • Social stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine

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