Tag Archives: know your pathology

Know Your Pathology: Osteoarthritis


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:

  1. grooving of the articular surface
  2. eburnation
  3. extension of the articular surface by new bone formation
  4. 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.