Animal Palaeopathology Working Group

Animal diseases in past human societies

The APWG committe would like to thank Brooklynne Fothergill for the following review. Abstracts for the conference can be found here.

"Over 30 attendees from 11 different countries were present at the fourth major ICAZ Animal Palaeopathology Working Group Conference in Katerini, Greece, which was held at the Hecabe Congress Centre on April 9-11. The title of the 2010 conference was “Animal diseases in past human societies”, and this broad theme was reflected in the diversity of delegates, which included veterinary pathologists, historians and archaeologists.

The conference opened on Friday morning with positive and thoughtful welcoming addresses from the Prefect of Pieria, Georgios Papastergiou, and the mayor of Katerini, Savvas Chionidis. These were followed by a retrospective presentation on the origins and history of zoopalaeopathology by Richard Thomas (working group co-ordinator).

The first session of the day focussed upon methodological issues arising during the process of palaeopathological enquiry. Contributions on the problem of discriminating conflict and hunting injuries from infections (Don Brothwell), and the integration of palaeopathology with archaeological evidence for changing animal husbandry practices (Clare Randall) were made, along with a bonus presentation on the pathological specimens from Turkish-period contexts from Barcs Castle in Hungary (Erika Gál). After a delicious lunch on the sunny patio below the Hecabe Congress Centre, contributions on the topic of infectious diseases were made. These included an examination of the application of ancient DNA analysis, skeletal lesion patterning and differential diagnosis with regard to Mycobacterium bovis infections (Jeanette Wooding), an exploration of disease ecology among nomadic pastoralists on the Central Asian Steppe (Robin Bendrey), and a survey of the written evidence for outbreaks of cattle disease in medieval Europe (Tim Newfield). The discussions afterward revolved around methodological concerns and the crucial importance of cross-disciplinary communication and cooperation. The day closed with the group of attendees enjoying the opportunity to test their skills by undertaking an informal palaeopathological examination of the remains of a fourth-century BC horse from Pydna.

The second day of the conference opened with poster presentations. There were a number of posters covering a variety of topics. Highlights included: the use of palaeopathological techniques to assess the importance of horses in the Iron Age Iberian peninsula (Silvia Albizuri, Matias Fernandez and Lluís Lloveras); investigation of the degradation of archaeological bone in post-retrieval environments (Harriet Brooks, A. Goodman and B. J. Colston); the use of pathologies in cattle feet to identify the emergence of the heavy plough in early medieval England (Matilda Holmes); lesions in a natural accumulation of rabbits from a medieval site in England (Richard Thomas and Lluis Lloveras); healed bone fractures in dogs from the Persian period of Tel Dor in Israel (Lidar Sapir-Hen, Guy Bar-Oz, Ilan Sharon, and Tamar Dayan); and a possible case of hypertrophic pulmonary osteoarthropathy in cattle (Fay Worley and Simon Mays). The oral presentations that followed centred around site-based case studies and included: palaeopathology at the Neolithic site of Dispilio in Kastoria, Greece (Eleni Samartzidou); animal health at Geldermalsen-Hondsgemet and contemporary Roman sites in the Netherlands (Maaike Groot); pathological turkeys from the Bluff Great House in Utah (Brooklynne Tyr Fothergill); and abnormalities of post-medieval sheep metapodia (Stephanie Vann). The broad application of zoopalaeopathological techniques in answering a range of archaeological and historical research questions was made clear in a stimulating discussion that followed.

After lunch, oral presentations on pathologies in individual species were given. Diachronic differences in the appraisal of horse morbidity (László Bartosiewicz), palaeopathology of Greek horses from Homeric to Hellenistic times (Theo Antikas), analysis of skeletal pathologies in Viking Age and modern horses from Norway (Anne Karin Hufthammer and Linas Daugnora), and pathological changes in the hindlimbs of a Roman Period horse (Maciej Janeczek, Aleksander Chrószcz, Zora Miklíková, and Marian Fabiš), were considered. Following these presentations, the value and success of differential diagnoses were discussed.

After a pleasant afternoon tea, presentations concerning individual species continued with a consideration of: pathological cattle calcanei and phalanges from Viking Age settlements in Sweden (Ylva Telldahl); a study of the pathologies present in a modern rabbit reference population (Lluís Lloveras, Richard Thomas, Marta Morena-García, Jordi Nadal, Xavier Tomàs-Gimeno, and Carme Rissech); and a cautionary tale regarding the interpretation of archaeological evidence for occipital dysplasia in dogs (Jessica M. Grimm). That evening, in the company of the Prefect of Pieria and the Major of the Municipality, delegates were treated to a tour of a local wine cellar followed by a splendid twelve-course meal and an abundance of locally-produced wine. The crowning course included a specially-prepared paschal lamb and kid, which were devoured, dismembered, and identified by hungry attendees!

On the last day, delegates were taken on a tour of the Royal Tombs of Vergina and its associated museum near the ancient capital of Macedon. Detailed information and explanations on the archaeology, finds and faunal remains were given by Laura Wynn-Antikas and Theo Antikas. After the tour, attendees were treated to a tasty lunch in a taverna in the shadow of the Pierian mountains.

The conference was a complete success. Not only was the goal of encouraging dialogue and discussion between specialists of multiple disciplines reached, but the entire experience was pleasant and enlightening. Particular gratitude must be extended to the Prefect of Pieria and the Mayor of Katerini for generously supporting the meeting and also to Theo Antikas and Laura-Wynn Antikas for providing such wonderful hospitality. Special thanks are also owed to the individuals on the organising committee and to the presenters and attendees who contributed mightily to the productive and enjoyable discourse of the event."

Brooklynne “Tyr” Fothergill
Post-Graduate Research Student
School of Archaeology and Ancient History
University of Leicester