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Human osteology at Giecz

Hedy M. Justus, MSc

Excavations at site Gz 4 in Giecz, Poland have been conducted by the Muzeum Pierwszych Piastów archaeological team since 1999 and are on-going. More than 160 burials have been excavated thus far with an unknown number still remaining interred. The Giecz Collection represents an early medieval population of this historically important region of Poland.

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Periodontal disease DISH (diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis) Sharp force trauma

During the 2003 and 2004 field seasons, an inventory of the Giecz Collection was conducted and analysis was undertaken to determine sex, age-at-death, and stature. The preliminary paleodemographic profile reveals a high infant mortality rate (22% of recorded population, n=35), yet the majority (55%, n=88) of the total recorded population survived to adulthood, predominantly (24% of adults, n=39) surviving to middle adulthood (35-50 years). In the adult population, approximately 48% (n=42) are male, 9% (n=8) are possible male, 34% (n=30) are female, 3% (n=3) are possible female and for the remaining 6% (n=5) sex cannot be confidently determined.

Slavia Project Students will have the opportunity to learn about bone trauma and pathology by observing the skeletal manifestations of various infections, nutritional deficiencies, and trauma. Initial observations of the skeletal remains include evidence of periostitis (non-specific infection), healed porotic hyperositis and cribra orbitalia (often associated with iron deficient anaemia), spinal osteophytosis, Schmorl's nodes, and eburnation (joint disease manifestations), bone resorption (sometimes associated with leprosy), osteochondritis dissecans, and dental manifestations such as enamel hypoplasia (nutritional deficiency and stress indicator), severe periodontal disease, dental abscesses, and severe dental attrition (enamel wear). Trauma observed on the skeletons include sharp force trauma and healed fractures.

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Dental attrition Osteochondritis dissecans

Preservation of skeletal remains at Gz 4 is excellent. Although soft tissue and hair have completely decomposed, many skeletons are still nicely articulated and the bone itself is in excellent condition. On the other hand, many burials are very shallow and due to agricultural activities of the past and present, some skeletons have been subjected to postmortem damage. Plowing has disturbed some burials, so not all skeletons are complete.

Slavia Project students at Giecz have the unique opportunity to learn about human osteology while working hands-on with a collection of medieval skeletons. They will have access to the collection with the discretion of the site osteologist and will process newly recovered skeletal remains during laboratory sessions scheduled on a rotating basis. We want everyone to dig a skeleton hands-on and make a drawing but we are never sure how many will be discovered at the particular season. Students normally work in groups of two, but more students may work together if room permits. Because this is an archaeological field school, students will learn about and have the opportunity to participate in all tasks required of an excavation. Student will take turns mapping with a survey transit, drawing plan maps of each level (indicating soil changes and features), and drawing plan maps of burials.

This cemetery site was established on top of an earlier settlement dated to the X and XI century. Some graves were interred into this site and some settlement artifacts, such as pottery, have been found within the graves. Artifacts that were buried with the bodies, known as grave goods, include metal rings that were once attached to fabric worn around the head, knives, bronze bracelets, a bronze stylus, spindle whirls, knives, coins, glass beads, and an amulet. All students will take part in the processing of artifacts (pottery, faunal remains, and isolated human remains) on a rotating basis in the archaeology lab and processing of skeletal remains from graves in the osteology lab. Every task is equally important, as is each site. We are looking to accept students who are interested in participating in and learning about the methods and techniques of archaeology as well as physical anthropology.

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