This is the first in a proposed series of blogs spotlighting specific pathologies that can be found in archaeological material. In this blog, I will tackle one of the more commonly discussed pathologies – osteoarthritis.
A term that has been widely misused in archaeological literature to include virtually any joint condition which results in new bone formation around the periphery of the joint, osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease primarily affecting the articular cartilage. The degeneration, which affects both the cells and matrix of the cartilage, exposes its confined fibres to produce a rough surface with clefts in the surface. This is worn away by the movement of the joint, resulting in the underlying bone becoming exposed. A non-inflammatory condition, it primarily affects the synovial joints. In human archaeological populations, the hip and knee are often those most commonly affected; these are the major weight-bearing joints.
In order for a definite diagnosis of ostoarthritis to be made, it is considered that at least three of the following four changes should be found:
- grooving of the articular surface
- extension of the articular surface by new bone formation
- exostoses around the periphery of the bone
The aetiology of osteoarthritis is multi-factorial. Increased age, a strong genetic predisposition, obestity, trauma, activity/lifestyle and environmental factors can all contribute to its development.
Baker, J., and Brothwell, D. 1980. Animal Diseases in Archaeology. London: Academic Press.
Roberts, C., and Manchester, K. 2005. The Archaeology of Disease. Third Edition. Stroud: Sutton Publishing.
Afarensis, whose ‘Know your primate’ series inspired the name.