The 85th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2016)

A probable case of rheumatoid arthritis from medieval transylvania


1Department of Anthropology, Tulane University, 2Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, 3Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Boston University, 4Department of Archaeology, Haaz Rezo Museum, 5Department of Archaeology, ArchaeoTek Canada

April 15, 2016 , Atrium Ballroom A/B Add to calendar

Paleopathologists have contributed to enriching what is known about the global history of rheumatoid arthritis; however, little is understood about the occurrence of the condition in the Carpathian Basin of Eastern Europe. This presentation describes a 12th -13th century burial of a young adult woman recovered from the Reform Church in the village of Bögöz, located in eastern Transylvania. This woman suffered from a pathological condition presenting bone abnormalities in the preserved joint areas of both knees, left elbow, metapodials, as well as hand and foot phalanges. These lesions presented as porous, lytic surfaces and have been documented both macroscopically and radiographically. The progression and location of the condition provided differential diagnosis possibilities of rheumatoid arthritis, gout, spondyloarthropathy, or psoriatic arthritis, with rheumatoid arthritis suggested as the most likely condition. The severity of the disease process, demonstrated by the marked lytic destruction of the left elbow joint, suggests that the woman would have had significant loss of movement of her left forearm. Moreover, the lytic destruction of the joint spaces of her lower limb and foot elements would have also impaired or prohibited movement altogether. We use this data, along with contextual information from the burial environment, to interpret the social climate of her daily experience and suggest that this case study is best understood through the recently proposed bioarchaeology of care.