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A case of decapitation in Canosa, South Italy (5th-6th century A.D.).

A young adult male (20-25 years old) show unambiguous evidence of decapitation. On the skull, there is complete excision of the lower portion of left mastoid processes. This individual presented with a blade injury on the external surface of the
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  Case report A case of decapitation in Canosa, South Italy (5th–6th century  A . D .) Sandro Sublimi Saponetti a , Vito Scattarella a , Cosimo Di Nunno b ,Patrizia Emanuel a , Nunzio Di Nunno c, * a  Dipartimento di Zoologia, Sezione di Antropologia, Universita` degli Studi di Bari, via Orabona 4, 70125 Bari, Italy b  Dipartimento di Medicina Interna e Medicina Pubblica, Sezione di Medicina Legale, Universita` degli Studi di Bari,Piazza G. Cesare n. 11, 70125 Bari, Italy c  Dipartimento di Scienze Pedagogiche, Psicologiche e Didattiche,Universita` degli Studi del Salento,via Mario Stampacchia n. 45, 73100 Lecce, Italy Received 11 November 2006; received in revised form 19 March 2007; accepted 31 July 2007Available online 19 September 2007 Abstract Theauthorspresentthecaseofanadultmale(20–25years)withastatureof175 cmandabodymassof68 kg,showingmanywoundscausedbybothstabbingandcuttingweapons.ThesubjectwasfoundinatombinthearcheologicalareaonthehillofSanPietro(Canosa,Bari),wherethereisa Paleo-Christian site dating back to the 6th–7th century  A . D . The skeleton shows clear signs of decapitation, due not to an execution but to a fightduring a battle. # 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords:  Traumatology; Paleopathology; First millennium Necropolis 1. Introduction Canosa (Bari) is one of the most important archeologicalcenters in Apulia, and in southern Italy. The importance of thistown, which had already emerged in the pre-Roman age whenCanosa was one of the wealthiest and most powerfulsettlements in the Daunia region, was further strengthenedduring Roman times. It reached a peak in the 6th–8th century A . D ., when the town became the seat of the governors and theregional capital of the  provincia Apulia et Calabria . The townvery soon became a leading religious center, too, thanks to thepresence of a large Christian community led by powerfulbishops, who were frequently called to attend importantreligious councils and were involved in diplomatic missions.ThegreatestsplendoroftheCanosachurchwasinthemiddleof the 6th century, at the time of the famous bishop Sabino, whowas held traditionally tohave presidedoverthe diocese forover50 years (514–566), and who commissioned an intensiveprogram of construction of holy buildings.ThePaleo-Christiansettlementattributedgreatimportancetothecemetery,whichfeaturestombsofvarioustypesinwhichoneor more bodies were buried, generally without funeraryaccoutrements. Nevertheless, they were clearly people of rank,including an anonymous  defensor   ( civitatis  or  ecclesiae ) and acertain  Georgius parbulus ; the inscription in his name found inthehallconfirmsthatthecemeterywasfullyinusealreadyinthe7thcentury.Finally,thesouthernareaofthequarterwasoccupiedby craftsmen, as demonstrated by at least two furnaces for theproduction of building materials and of ceramics [1].The building compounds identified up to now weredevoted to many different functions of a liturgical, pastoral,funerary, administrative and residential type, typical of animportant Paleo-Christian settlement like the town of Canosa. 2. Materials and methods The material analyzed in the present work was found inside tomb no. 53,located on the hill of San Pietro in Canosa (Bari). It includes skeletal remains inafairstateofpreservation,belongingtotwoindividuals.OfindividualAthereisthe complete skeleton of an adult male (20–25 years), with a stature of 175 cmandabodymassof68 kg.OfindividualB,anadultwithundeterminedsex,onlythe 12th dorsal vertebra and a phalanx of the left hand were found.Sex determination was made on the basis of morphology and size of bones[2–4]. The age at death was assessed according to the state of dentition [5], the degree of epiphysis fusion [2] and the combined method [3]. The anthropo- metric measurements were made according to the indications provided by [6], Science International 176 (2008) e11–e16* Corresponding author. E-mail address: (N. Di Nunno).0379-0738/$ – see front matter # 2007 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.forsciint.2007.07.015  while the stature was estimated on the basis of the formulas by Trotter andGleser for Caucasians [7]. The body mass was calculated using the formulasreported by Ruff  [8]. 3. Taphonomic considerations Tomb 53 was firstly considered to include a single skeleton(Fig. 1); a closer investigation revealed that as well as theremains of a well preserved individual (individual A), the 12thdorsal vertebra and a phalanx of the left hand belonging to asecond individual (individual B) were also present.Individual A was in supine position with dislocation of thecranium, rotated by 90 8 , with the base lying on the bottom of the tomb (Fig. 2). The left arm was abducted with the forearmflexed. The right arm was parallel to the trunk, with the forearmsemiflexed and lying on the homolateral hip joint.The left femur was abducted and rotated externally, and thetibiasandfibulas,laterallyrotated,showedinvertedpositionwiththe lateral surfaces lying flat and anatomically joined (Fig. 3).Decomposition occurred in empty space, as shown by thecollapse of the ribs, the opening of the pubic symphysis and theexternal rotation of the femurs and tibias. 4. Description of the lesions 4.1. Cranium The cranium presents many cutting wounds caused by asharp blade. In the left norma lateralis (Fig. 4) there is acomplete severing of the apex of the mastoid process of thetemporal bone (Fig. 5). On the maxilla, there is a rupture of thecrown of the 3rd molar and two fracture lines. The first starts atthe level of the 2nd molar and runs parallel to the alveolarmargin in a forward, superior direction, almost reaching theinfraorbitalregion(Fig.4).Thesecond,shorterline,startsatthealveolar marginbetweenthe 1st and the 2nd premolars, runningupwards and intersecting the first fracture. The hook of themedial wing of the left pterygoid process is missing. The leftmandibular branch shows an oblique fracture localized 15 mmfrom the lowest point of the sigmoid incisura (Fig. 4) and, fromthis fracture, a second, very long crack runs downwardsanteriorly, parallel to the inferior margin of the mandible,reaching the chin symphysis. There is complete severance of the left part of the mandible. On the detached portion, the cutsurface is smooth on the posterior surface, with regularmargins, whereas the anterior part is irregular, as is the rupturedsurface of the branch found still in connection with themandible. This lesion was evidently caused by a cuttingweapon. The wound seems to be the result of a blow dealtlaterallyinadownwarddirection,withthevictim’sheadrotatedto the left and his mouth open. Fig. 1. Individual A in tomb no. 53.Fig. 2. Tomb no.53. Upper part. S. Sublimi Saponetti et al./Forensic Science International 176 (2008) e11–e16  e12  The cranium shows many lesions caused by a cuttingweapon, some of which are circular while others runlengthways and parallel. These lesions seem to have beenproduced by placing the blade flat and tangent to the cranium:in some points the most external layer of the bone has peeledaway. Lesions of this type are attributable to the practice of scalping [9]. There are also two small lesions in the right andleft parietal sites, with an irregular, stellate shape and adiameter of 1.5 cm, that have not penetrated through the bone.These were probably caused by arrows.In the median portion of the anterior face of the frontal bone,about 6.5 cm from the nasal incisura, there is an oval-shapedloss of bone substance (11 mm    20 mm and 3 mm deep). 4.2. Cervical vertebrae A large part of the lateral margin of the inferior left jointepiphysis and the homologous transverse process of the atlaswas cut and removed with a thin blade (Fig. 6) [10]. The cut is angled at approximately 30 8 . On the left lateral mass in thenorma anterioris, there is a fracture line running from theanterior margin of the inferior joint facet upwards until itreaches and medially crosses the superior joint facet. Theepistropheus has been cut at several points. A cutting weaponhas sliced away the surface and exposed the trabecular layer of the odontoid apophysis, the vertebral body and the superiorright joint apophysis. The cranial part of the spinous apophysisand the right tubercle also appear to have been cut away(Fig. 7). The lesion has a small cut surface with well-defined Fig. 3. Tomb no. 53. Lower part.Fig. 4. The cranium ofindividual A in left norma lateralis. Complete severanceoftheapexofthemastoidprocesscanbeseenonthetemporalbone.Thebranchof the mandible is also completely severed. Rupture of the crown of M 3 and twofracture lines can be seen on the maxilla.Fig. 5. Detail of the mastoid portion of the left temporal bone. The cut hascompletely severed the lower part of the apophysis.Fig.6. Inferiorfaceofthefirstcervicalvertebra.Cutsurfacesareevidentontheinferior joint apophysis (a and a 0 ) and the ventral and dorsal arches of theforamen for the left vertebral artery (b and b 0 ). S. Sublimi Saponetti et al./Forensic Science International 176 (2008) e11–e16   e13  margins, while the rest of the region is bare and irregular, as isthe base ofthe odontoidprocess. Inthe anterior normathere isafracture line running obliquely from the anterior margin of theleft superior joint apophysis to the vertebral body and thenparallel with it, ending near the medial margin of the righttransverse foramen. Evidently, both the first and secondcervical vertebrae both show precise wounds caused by acutting blade. 4.3. Left ulna and radius On the severed proximal epiphysis of the ulna, the cutsurface is visible and appears smooth and with a regular marginon the dorsal part, and irregular on the volar part. The samelacerated, irregular surface is present on the stump of thediaphysis. In the same area, two bone scales are detached,the smaller, triangular-shaped one from the dorsal face and thelarger one from the volar face. On the dorsal face of thediaphysis stump there are two fracture lines running paralleltowards the diaphysis for about 3 cm. A cutting blade hassevered the proximal epiphysis of the left ulna approximately1 cm below the radial incisura (Fig. 8). The blow was struck posteriorly downwards.The blade penetrated the radius from above, in a dorso-volardirection, for about 1 cm without severing the proximalepiphysis, creating a lesion 2 mm wide (the thickness of theblade?). On the dorsal face, on the inferior margin of the lesion,a thin bone scale has detached. On the posterior face of the leftradius, at the level of the biceps tuberosity, there is a cuttingwound (Fig. 8). 4.4. Right and left tibia Both tibias show lesions caused by a pointed stabbingweapon.Onthemedialsurfaceofthelefttibia,alittlebelowthe Fig. 7. Superior face of the second cervical vertebra. Cut surfaces are evidenton the odontoid apophysis (a), the vertebral body (c), the right joint apophysis(d) and the spinous apophysis (b).Fig. 8. Posterior face of the proximal epiphysis of the left ulna and radius. Theproximal epiphysis of the ulna has been completely severed by a cutting bladeapproximately 1 cm below the radial incisura. The lesion produced by the sameweapon is visible on the radius at the level of the biceps tuberosity. S. Sublimi Saponetti et al./Forensic Science International 176 (2008) e11–e16  e14  half diaphysis, there is a circular lesion approximately 2.5 mmin diameter and 2 mm deep. On the superior face of the inferiorextremity of the right tibia there is a full thickness, oval-shapedperforation (4 mm    3 mm), likely caused by a sharp-pointedweapon. 5. Conclusions The presence of many stabbing and cutting wounds allover the skeleton allows us to presume that the decapitationwas not the result of an execution [10], but of a fight during abattle. The lesions on the tibias caused by a sharp-pointedweapon suggest that the subject was not wearing protectivecovering and was transfixed by two arrows. The lesionspresent on the ulna and radius of the left arm, attributable tothe same event, indicate that at the moment when the blowwas struck the subject was holding his left arm abductedand the forearm flexed and prone. This type of lesion isfairly common, the outcome of attempts to shield the headfrom a blow.The cutting wounds present on the mastoid process of the left temporal bone, left mandibular branch, third upperleft molar and first two cervical vertebrae seem to beattributable to a single back-handed blow struck using a thin,sharp weapon, by an aggressor coming to the victim on theleft hand side, while he was turning his head towards thenew threat. The blow caused lesions on the sterno-cleido-mastoid muscle, as well as the carotid artery and vein, andended at the level of the cervical bone plane, causing rapiddeath.Itcanreasonablybepresumedfromthelackoflesionsontheright mandibular branch that the head was not completelysevered. This would explain the peculiar position of thecranium in the tomb.Taphonomic analysis of the burial arrangement showsdislocation of the knee joints, consisting of internal rotationof the calves by about 180 8  as compared with the thighs. Inthis light, the compound fractures of the distal epiphyses of the tibias could be interpreted as occurring previous to death,and imputable to concomitant trauma during the sequence of blows, probably due to falling after suffering the mortalblow.Another notable element is the number of lesions on thecranium caused by a cutting blade. It is possible that they couldbe due to scalping by the aggressor immediately after death.The type of weapons presumably used by the aggressor of the subject under study, namely arrows, a cutting weaponsimilar to a langsax, and a knife, together with the scalpingpractice, strongly suggest the weapons and fighting practicesof the tribes of the steppes (Huns, Avars), known to havemade raids in Europe during the period from the 5th to the 7thcentury  A . D .This is further confirmed by the fact that in cemeteries in theItalian peninsula dating back to this period, individuals with theskeletal characteristics of Mongolian peoples are frequentlyfound. These individuals have a short, wide cranium(brachycranium), a narrow forehead as compared with thewidth of the cranium (stenometopia), and a flattened face(platopia), with the zygomatic bones projecting laterally.Shovel-shaped incisors and wormian bones are common, andthe oval window is not visible from the external acousticmeatus.These Mongolians traits are sometimes mixed withCaucasian features, due to cross-breeding of the peoples of the steppes, of Turkish-Altaic srcin, with the subjected Slav,GermanicandLatinpopulations.Therecent findingsofskeletalremains with Mongolian elements in cemeteries of this periodin Apulia and Molise are a part of this phenomenon: a subjectwith entirely Mongolian features in a tomb discovered in 1989in Canosa (Bari) (6th–7th century  A . D .) [11]; an individualfound in a tomb inside a building of this period in Herdonia(Foggia) (4th–6th century  A . D .) [12]; 10 warriors buried withtheir horses in the necropolis of Vicenne-Campochiaro(Campobasso, Molise) (7th century  A . D .) that seem to beattributable to the Avar ethnic group [13,14]; and 5 subjectswith Mongolian cranial features in the archeological site of SanGiusto. Moreover, the results of the Paleobiological geneticanalyses carried out on corpses found in the Abruzzi cemeteriesof Martinsicuro, San Benedetto dei Marsi, San Giovanni inVenere, of the same period, in which particular attention waspaid to the mitochondrial DNA, suggest that the ancientpopulation may have derived from two maternal lines, onetypically European and the other present only in human groupsfrom Central Asia. Acknowledgement The authors would like to thank Babette Pregnal for thetranslation. References [1] G. Volpe, Nuovi dati sul complesso episcopale paleocristiano di san Pietroa Canosa. In Atti del Convegno Canosa, Ricerche storiche 2004, a cura diL. Bertoldi Lenoci Fasano 2005, 2004, pp. 15–34.[2] D. Ferembach, I. Schwidetzky, M. Stloukal, Raccomandazioni per ladeterminazione dell’eta` e del sesso sullo scheletro, Rivista di antropologia60 (1977–1979) 5–51.[3] G. Acsadi, J. Nemeskeri, History of Human Life Span and Mortality,Akademial Kiado`, Budapest, 1970.[4] M.R. Sauter, F. Privat, Sur un nouveau proce`de` me`trique de determinationsexualle du bassin osseaux,Bulletinsde la Societe` d’Ethnologie 31 (1955)60–84.[5] D.H. Ubelaker, Human Skeletal Remains: Excavations, Analysis,Interpretation, Taraxacum, Washington, 1989.[6] R. Martin, K. Saller, Lehrbuch der Antropologie, G. Fischer, Stuttgart,1956.[7] M. Trotter, G.C. Gleser, Corrigenda to estimation of stature from limbbones of American Whites and Negroes, A.J.P.A., 1952, Am. J. Phys.Anthropol. 47 (1997) 355–356.[8] C.B. Ruff, E. Trinkaus, T.W. Holliday, Body mass and encephalization in‘‘Pleistocene Homo’’, Nature 387 (1997) 173–176.[9] G.R.Milner,V.G.Smith,Oneotahumanskeletalremains,in:S.K.Santure,A.D. Harn, D. Esarey (Eds.), Archaeological Investigations at the MortonVillage and Norris Farms 35 Cemetery. Illinois State Museum Reports of Investigation, vol. 45, 1990, pp. 111–148.[10] T. Anderson, Two decapitations from roman Towcester, Int. J. Osteoarch-aeol. 11 (2001) 400–405. S. Sublimi Saponetti et al./Forensic Science International 176 (2008) e11–e16   e15
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