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Peri or Post mortem fracture?

Another Roman burial x-ray from the Hallet's garage excavation in Canterbury.

A photo showing the break running across the angle of the mandible.

As part of our continued investigation into the Roman bones from the Hallet's garage excavation, Lisa Duffy and I conducted some imaging of a juvenile's mandible with suspected trauma. A break in the bone ran across the angle of the mandible, but its origin was not certain. The situation was not straight forward. Upon excavation the mandible was in one piece, but on analysis it gave way. For the purposes of the photo and x-ray the pieces were placed together. As you can see from the x-ray there is a molar tooth missing, which fell out as a result of the break.

The x-ray. The mandible has been raised slightly superiorly, meaning that it is slightly tilted. This has resulted in a foreshortened representation of the ramus. Subsequent imaging with the right half of the mandible was done 'flat'.

The question is - was this fracture done before death, at the time of death or after death?

We imaged the right side of the mandible to compare. This also showed a missing molar tooth which may have also fallen out during excavation or analysis. There are no signs of callus formation or periosteal reaction. The x-ray shown above is misleading - any steps in the cortex or lucencies seen could be accounted for my our manipulation of the bony fragments. We could manufacture the appearances of a fracture by the way we set up the fragments (and how we image the bones). Nevertheless, according to our reliable friend Wikipedia, fractures of the angle of mandible are common (25%).

My opinion: Whilst we cannot absolutely rule out a peri-mortem injury (i.e. at the time of death), the x-rays suggest damage during burial or excavation.

Images: All images have been taken by the author.

Reproduced with permission from Canterbury Archaeological Trust and Canterbury Christ Church University.

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