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Medicina dello Sport 2013 September;66(3):443-60


language: English, Italian

A peculiar pattern of musculoskeletal stress markers in a skeleton from 16th century Sardinia: a galea rower of the Alghero seaport?

Giuffra V. 1, Bianucci R. 1, 2, Milanese M. 3, Fornaciari G. 1

1 Division of Paleopathology, Department of Translational Research on New Technologies in Medicine and Surgery, University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy; 2 Laboratory of Physical Anthropology, Department of Public Health and Pediatric Sciences, University of Turin, Turin, Italy; 3 Department of History, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy


Aim: A putative plague mass burial dating to the 1582-1583 Alghero outbreak was uncovered in 2008-2009. Among the plague victims, we identified the skeleton of a male of 35-40 years showing a very peculiar pattern of occupational stress markers.
Methods: The skeletal remains were submitted to anthropological, paleopathological and radiological study.
Results: The spine, shoulder and knee joints were affected by severe osteoarthritis with porosity of the articular surface, osteophytosis and eburnation; the heads of the first and especially third metacarpals, and first and third phalanges of the thumbs showed severe osteoarthritic changes as well. Observation of the insertion sites of the ligaments and tendons revealed enthesopaties in the scapulae, humeri, ulnae, hand bones, coxal bones, femurs, tibiae and calcanei. Osteochondritis dissecans occurred in several districts, including the left lunate, distal epiphysis of both tibiae and of the right fibula, proximal epiphysis of the first phalanx of the big toes and first left cuneiform bone. Schmorl’s nodes were evident level with the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae. Lastly, bilateral subacromial impingement syndrome and tuberosity avulsion fracture of the fifth metatarsal were diagnosed.
Discussion: Based on the historical reconstruction of specific 16th Century seaport occupations and on comparison with models from sport medicine, we discuss the occupational activities that might have been related to the above skeletal changes.
Conclusion: Our hypothesis is that most likely they are consistent with the lifestyle of a sailor engaged in an oaring activity.

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