This essay presents a unique forensic / bioarchaeological investigation of the traumatised remains of an older male from Thasos, exploring the nature of the executing weapon reconstructed in bronze, the archaeometry on the trajectory and factors of speed and force at the deliverance of the deadly strike.
Searching through interdisciplinary research to recover echoes of the human condition ingrained as they may be in the skeletal record of the ancients, there have been few cases in the forty year experience of the author which in defiance to the relentless passage of Chrόnos and even the chthonic potency of the waters of Léthe to dissolve all strings relating to Mnenosỳne could offer compelling evidentiary data, critical for generating meaningful interpretive answers as a nexus to life pathways and experiences in antiquity, reflective of dynamics and circumstances, that were not always possible to be recorded or spoken of by the attendants of Cléo. And yet in rare cases, millennia later, ostensibly through the works of Láchesis, a synergy between the fields of Archaeological Anthropology and Bioarchaeology may offer a unique portal whereby the dictum mortui vivos docent may be reiterated. Sharing in the objectives of an ongoing archaeo-anthropological endeavor, aiming to better decipher and elucidate facets of the human condition while carrying out funerary archaeological research of Hellenistic to Roman periods family graves at the extensive ancient necropolis of Thasos, the most northern Aegean island, this essay addresses a case of unique forensic / bioarchaeological interest involving an older male individual, a member of one of the clusters of burials, who had been placed as a single interment in a most conspicuous limestone cyst grave of the Hellenistic period. While odontological, cranio-infracranial skeleto-anatomic manifestations and palaeopathologies revealed a detailed rostrum on aspects of his developmental growth, of acquired and degenerative somatic changes, reflective of his life experiences which involved long term most active participations in physically demanding yet specialized activities, a staggering ‘through and through’ sternal trauma of astonishing preservation, provided for a distinct opportunity to conduct a unique cross-disciplinary investigation on the nature of the weapon reconstructed in bronze, the archaeometry on the trajectory and factors of speed and force at the deliverance of the strike, along with the diagnostic assessments of the thoracic tissues pierced consecutively and their moribund consequences. A review of historical references on the implementation of capital punishment either through the decision of a dicastic or ephetic court, and/or execution carried out as a result of outlawry are evaluated in relevance to funerary practices as these pertained to the interment of the Thasian male within the context of the burial ground, offering in retrospect assessments on the probable cause of his violent death.
Introduction; Archaeo-anthropological research in Thasos island; Aspects of the human condition decoded through analysis of the osteological record; Palaeopathological differential diagnosis: Not a sternal foramen; Identification and reproduction of the weapon type and component which was used to pierce through the corpus sterni; The anatomic consequences of the trauma impact by the thrusting of the styrax into the mediastinum, and assessment on the cause of death; Experimental archaeometry through Physics, testing for data relevant to a styrax thrusting into the thorax; Trauma interpretation and discussion of causes for the execution of the Thasian; Epilogue
About the Author
ANAGNOSTIS P. AGELARAKIS is Professor of Anthropology at Adelphi University in New York. He studied Classical Archaeology and European Ethnology as an undergraduate, and as graduate Environmental Studies at Lund University and Lund Polytechnic Institute in Sweden. He holds a M. Phil. and Ph.D. (1989) in Anthropology from Columbia University, New York. In the earlier years of his career, he carried out field and/or lab archaeo-anthropological research projects focusing on the organizational abilities, capacities, and adaptations of the human condition during the Holocene in SE and SW Asia, the Middle East, the American Northeast, and the Caribbean. The central area of his research remains however the Eastern Mediterranean with emphasis on the ancient world of the Greeks, at the cross roads and sea routes between Africa, Asia, and Europe. Under the domains of Anthropological Archaeology, Funerary Archaeology, Bio-Archaeology and Forensics he studies the biological profiles, the demographic dynmics, and palaeopathological records of human skeletal populations from prehistoric periods to the late medieval era. Based on the skeletal record, he investigates issues relative to the changing dynamics in ancient warfare, the developments of the art of medicine particularly as it related to battle trauma surgery and healing regimens, as well as aspects on the decipherment of kinetic and occupational changes permanently recorded on bones and teeth. Further, he searches through archaeological anthropology for evidence that may fine-tune our knowledge on gender roles, and of the decorum and symbolism of burial customs and practices, always considering and juxtaposing where available with literary and historic records, as well as the rest of the archaeological record.