Medieval injuries: Skeletal trauma as an indicator of past living conditions and hazard risk in Cambridge, England

Jenna M Dittmar* (Corresponding Author), Piers D Mitchell, Craig Cessford, Sarah A Inskip, John E Robb

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


OBJECTIVE: To explore how medieval living conditions, occupation, and an individual's role within society impacted their risk of skeletal trauma.

MATERIALS: The skeletal remains of 314 individuals from medieval Cambridge that were buried in the parish cemetery of All Saints by the Castle (n = 84), the Augustinian friary (n = 75), and the cemetery of the Hospital of St John the Evangelist (n = 155) were analyzed.

METHODS: Macroscopic examination and plain radiographs were used to classify fracture type. The causative mechanisms and forces applied to a bone were inferred based on fracture morphology.

RESULTS: The skeletal trauma observed represents accidental injuries, likely sustained through occupational or everyday activities, and violence. The highest prevalence rate was observed on the individuals buried at All Saints by the Castle (44%, n = 37/84), and the lowest was seen at the Hospital of St John (27%, n = 42/155). Fractures were more prevalent in males (40%, n = 57/143) than females (26%, n = 25/95).

CONCLUSIONS: Skeletal trauma was highest in All Saints parish burial ground, indicating that the poor, whether working urban or rurally, had the highest risk of injury. The pattern and types of fractures observed suggests that males experienced more severe traumatic events than females. However, females that were routinely involved in manual labor were also at increased risk of injury.

SIGNIFICANCE: This article enhances our understanding of how traumatic injuries differed by age, sex, and burial locations in the medieval period.

FURTHER RESEARCH: Additional comparative studies in different geographical regions are needed to determine how representative these findings are.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)626-645
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
Early online date25 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank Mark Viner of Reveal X-ray Imaging Solutions, Trish Biers of the Duckworth Collection at the University of Cambridge and all the members of Cambridge Archaeological Unit. This research was funded by the Wellcome Trust (Award no 2000368/Z/15/Z) and St John's College, Cambridge.

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author [JD] upon reasonable request.


  • fracture
  • interpersonal violence
  • lifeways
  • sexual division of labor
  • violence


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