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

Injury-Related Morbidity and Mortality in Neolithic Syria


1Dept. of Natural Sciences, Milwaukee Area Technical College, 2Dept. of Archaeology, University of Tsukuba

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

The injurious effects of the agricultural transition on health have been well documented. In addition to a general increase in indicators of illness, researchers have observed higher frequencies of skeletal trauma among early agricultural populations. This trend is often considered indicative of an increased level of interpersonal conflict, perhaps related to resource availability or the enforcement of social hierarchies. While much of this research is derived from New World contexts, contributions from the Near East are relatively uncommon. Excavations at the Pottery Neolithic cemetery at Tell el-Kerkh in northwest Syria provide an opportunity to study the frequency of skeletal trauma in this less examined region. The cemetery sample consists of 237 individuals. Of these, 127 individuals (male=48; female=41) were adults. Thirty-seven fractures were observed among thirteen individuals (male=11; female=3). Most individuals (54%) suffered multiple injuries. Fractures to the hands, feet, and thorax were most common. Four individuals exhibited cranial or facial fractures, including one young adult male with an unhealed, penetrating fracture of the frontal bone. In general, the observed frequency and pattern of fractures is similar to other sites within the Near East, with limited evidence for interpersonal violence. However, the divergent constellation of fractures among males and females suggests that, while interpersonal violence may have been uncommon, females were at greater risk of intentional injury. In contrast, males were primarily at risk of minor skeletal injuries, perhaps due to environmental dangers, or the hazards of manual labor.