The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

‘Readmitted under urgent circumstance’: uniting archives and bioarchaeology at the Royal London Hospital


Department of Anthropology, McMaster University

March 26, 2015 , Gateway Ballroom 4 Add to calendar

Bioarchaeological study of historical groups may be aided by the use of written records. Fracture prevalence at the Royal London Hospital in London, UK during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was assessed using skeletal and archival data. These two datasets contribute to an understanding of medical treatment at the Royal London Hospital; however, uniting these disparate sources of data revealed contradictory fracture prevalence results. Admission and discharge records for the hospital are extant for 1760, 1791, 1792, and the latter half of 1805. Of a total of 3707 adult hospital admissions, 370 were diagnostically labeled as fracture. The skeletal remains of 123 adult individuals buried at the Royal London Hospital during the early nineteenth century (curated by the Museum of London) were analyzed and 63 individuals were determined to have suffered one or more fractures. A comparison of fracture by body area (dictated by the diagnostic labels used in the archival admission records) revealed statistically significant differences (p < 0.01) in the fracture prevalence between the archival and skeletal results for the leg, rib, foot, hand, nose, spine, wrist, ankle, and hip areas. These results highlight the contradictions that may be encountered when incorporating multiple lines of evidence; disparate datasets may provide differing pictures of what constitutes a ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ rate of fracture in a particular group. In addition, this paper raises biocultural questions concerning individuals’ lived trauma experience and choice to seek medical treatment for certain types of fractures.