SG Sheridan.  (1997).    "'Biocultural Reconstruction of Kneeling Pathology in a Byzantine Judean Monastery."   Abstract, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Supplement 24:209.


The purpose of this investigation was to provide a reconstruction of life in a large Byzantine monastic community in Jerusalem using information gleaned from skeletal remains, and the rich archaeological and historical records. Archaeological evidence demonstrates a large walled monastery at the site during the 5th century, to which numerous authors of the period make reference.  Housed in the crypt complex underlying the site are the remains of the occupants of this Byzantine monastery.

Over 6,000 skeletal elements have been removed to date.  Although found in an ossuary setting and not as discrete burials, detailed osteological analysis of population trends has been possible.  Historical records for the site describe a large, affluent monastery; the robust, well-nourished adult male remains seem to corroborate those accounts.  They lived on average into their 40's, and showed little evidence of previous childhood stress as measured using enamel hypoplasias. The most common ailments were degenerative changes of the lower limb, virtually all of which are associated with  flexion and extension of the leg.

Over 240 femora, patella, tibia, fibula and calcanei were analyzed for this study. The majority (67%) of femora demonstrated lipping and/or eburnation of the femoral condyles, arthritic lipping along the linea aspera and the attachment site for the quadratus femoris,  and deep impressions for the popliteus tendon and the lateral head of the gastrocnemius. Patellar pathologies included eburnation of the articular facets, and lipping along the attachment site for the rectus femorus.  Tibia were affected at the attachments for the patellar ligament,  soleus, and tibial collateral ligament, as well as arthritic lipping along the condyle margins, and deep impressions for the tibialis posterior.  Fibular pathologies included active response along the anterior talofibular ligament and interosseous ligament attachment sites.  The majority of calcanei showed lipping at the site of attachment for the Achille's tendon.

When the biological record of pathologies of the lower limb are combined with the historical record of highly ritualized monastic life which included daily, repeated kneeling for prayer,  this collection provides an ideal test for studying occupational stress. It also demonstrates the utility of a functional analysis of population trends using isolated skeletal elements found in an ossuary setting.

* This research was supported by the University of Notre Dame's Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts and the Faculty Research Program of the Graduate School.


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