German paleopathologists examined the remains of a woman, discovered in 2013 in a Merovingian cemetery, and revealed that she had a severe pathology of the bones of her right hand. The researchers concluded that the most appropriate diagnosis is one of the varieties of Madelung deformity, with the degree of observed deformities exceeding all cases described in the modern literature. The article was published in the International Journal of Paleopathology.
Madelung's deformity is a defect in the development of the wrist joint and the distal end of the forearm, which is externally expressed by the standing of the head of the ulna and the displacement of the hand to the palmar side. As a rule, the development of this pathology occurs at the age of 9–12 years, that is, during the period of active growth of tubular bones. Due to disorders in the wrist joint, a shortening of the upper limb is also observed. According to statistics, girls suffer from this disease four times more often than boys. Cases of this rather rare disease are known in ancient times due to the development of paleopathological studies of archaeological finds.
Recently, a large Merovingian cemetery was accidentally discovered in Germany. It is located in the suburb of Boilstedt - a suburban area of the city of Gotha in the German federal state of Thuringia. Here in 2012–2013, during the construction of a new road, a Merovingian burial chamber was discovered, which probably contained the remains of a warrior. The study showed that this is a man who died naturally at the age of 30 around 600 AD, that is, at the time when these lands were conquered by the Frankish Empire. On an area of about 8 thousand square meters, in total, more than 50 graves were found containing weapons, jewelry and other grave goods. Among other burials, paleopathologists were interested in the remains of a woman, some of whose bones were deformed.
Location of the cemetery in the federal state of Thuringia
Jan Nováček from the State Service for Cultural Heritage and Archeology of Thuringia, together with colleagues from Germany, conducted a study of the remains of a woman discovered in 2013 in a cemetery in Gotha Boilstedt, where most of the burials date from the Merovingian era (late V - mid-VIII century) and probably belong to the ancient Germanic Turing tribe.
Scientists have established that the woman's age at the time of death was 40-50 years old, she was rather short - about 155 centimeters. Her right arm is noticeably shorter in length than her left and is severely deformed. The right humerus is about 3 centimeters shorter, it is 3 millimeters less in diameter, and the circumference of the deltoid tuberosity is 11 millimeters. In addition, although the traces of muscle attachment are clearly visible, they are less pronounced compared to the left side, where physiologically everything is normal. The right ulna is thin, short (about 25 percent difference), and also bent at an angle of about 25 degrees.
Paleopathologists believe that the observed condition of the forearm can be congenital, or acquired in childhood. In their opinion, the most appropriate diagnosis is one of the varieties of Madelung deformities, but the absence of hand bones at the disposal of researchers leaves some doubts. They noted that this anomaly is sometimes accompanied by a short person, which is typical for the case in question. Scientists concluded that the degree of observed deformations was greater than those reported in the current medical literature. They speculate that this can be attributed to a lack of medical treatment or physical therapy.
Comparison of the ulna
Scientists have concluded that it is extremely difficult to assess the impact of such a state on the life of this woman in the Middle Ages. The right arm, although shorter and weaker than the left, did not appear to be paralyzed. Paleopathologists believe that it is likely that the muscle conduction of the flexors and extensors of the wrist, hand and fingers was limited, if not completely disabled. Scientists have concluded that this case represents the first example of a Madelung deformation in German archeology, as well as one of 17 published fossil cases currently known.