The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Medial versus lateral epicondyle enthesopathies through time: Implications for behavioural reconstruction


1Biological Anthropology Research Centre, Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford (UK), 2Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter (UK)

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In living people enthesopathies of the lateral epicondyle of the humerus are far more common than for the medial epicondyle. Interestingly, a comprehensive review of the anthropological literature regarding these two conditions indicates a similar pattern.

Our goal is to present and discuss the relative occurrence of medial versus lateral epicondyle enthesopathies for about 1000 European skeletons dated from 25 thousand years ago to the beginning of the 20th century. A single observer (S.V.) performed all enthesis examinations employing the same methodological criteria.

Enthesopathies of the lateral epicondyle are more common, for both sides and both sexes, in all historical samples. On the other hand, in prehistoric samples dated from the Upper Palaeolithic, the Mesolithic and the Neolithic, medial epicondyle enthesopathies are more common than lateral epicondylar ones, but only in males and only for the right side.

This observation of this diachronic pattern provides a strong argument for considering a mechanical origin for these lesions. Medial epicondyle enthesopathies, then, represent a valuable osteological marker for throwing motions. Based on this evidence, we argue that a predominance of medial epicondyle enthesopathies compared to lateral epicondylar ones in a given sample may be a valuable indicator of specific behavioural patterns.

Study of these collections was funded by: Foundation Fyssen, Ministère de la culture (Projet Aires Culturelles), Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme d’Aquitaine, European Union (Synthesys, grant number GB-TAF-636).

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