The 87th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2018)

Craniotomy and thoracotomy in the individuals from the Coimbra Identified Skeletal Collection (early 20th century, Portugal)


1Department of Life Sciences, University of Coimbra, 2Research Centre for Anthropology and Health (CIAS), University of Coimbra

April 12, 2018 21, Zilker 1/2/3 Add to calendar

Circumferential craniotomy (to examine the brain and other structures), and thoracotomy (to inspect the thoracic cage) are procedures used in postmortem examination of cadavers. These techniques are applied in autopsy (to determine the cause of death) and in anatomical dissection/prosection (for educational purposes). This study aims to investigate the cut marks observable in the skeletons of the Coimbra Identified Skeletal Collection (CISC), to determine the prevalence of craniotomies and thoracotomies, and to search the underlying reasons for its application. The 505 individuals of the CISC were macroscopic observed. The Coimbra University Hospital and Legal Medicine records, as well as the available teaching manuals, were searched. Thirty-nine individuals (39/505;7.7%) show evidence of postmortem medical procedures: three craniotomies (7.7%), twelve thoracotomies (30.8%) and twenty-four of both (61.5%), representing 14 females (35.9%) and 25 males (64.1%), without statistical significance between sexes (Pearson χ2=3.103; d.f.=1; p=0.078). Age at death ranges from 16 to 75 years old (X̅=35.18), and they died between 1915 and 1931. Twelve were autopsied after an accidental or violent death (e.g. homicide, poisoning). Moreover, unclaimed bodies of individuals who died in hospitals, nursing homes, and public care homes were available by law to dissection/prosection. At least a male individual was kept at the Anatomical Theater, having been buried 7 months after death. Uncommon conditions and/or disease processes (e.g. aspergillosis, amaurosis) may have resulted in dissection/prosection of seven individuals. This research provided new data about the CISC individuals, on legal issues related to autopsy, and on history and teaching of medicine.

Fundacão para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT − FellowshipSFRH/BD/102980/2014) and CIAS (Pest-UID/ANT/0283/2013)