Friday, December 17, 2010

Lucky duck! Spanish Bronze Age man suffered broken bone in neck – and lived

The hyoid bone is located at the base of the tongue.
Image from Gray's Anatomy, in public domain.

Archaeologists exploring a Bronze Age fortress at La Motilla del Azuer, in Spain, have come across a very lucky man.
One of the skeletons is of a man that lived more than 3,400 years ago and suffered a broken hyoid bone, likely caused by a blow to his neck.
The hyoid bone is a horseshoe shaped object located at the root of the tongue. Amazingly enough the injury healed and the man lived to be in his 40’s. He was five and a half feet and had a “moderate” build.
“This injury is extremely rare apart from hanging and strangulation, and it is even rarer since the individual survived this injury to his neck,” writes the research team that made the discovery. “This injury was probably produced by a direct impact to the neck.”
The discovery is set to be published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. If you have a subscription to the journal (or access to a library with one) you can already see it on their website. The research team is from the University of Granada, in Spain, and is led by Silvia Jiménez-Brobeil.
Archaeologists don’t yet have a firm date for the skeleton but the site itself dates back between 3,400 and 4,200 years ago.
Brobeil’s team says that it’s unlikely that this man’s injury was an accident. “The location of the injury and the fact that it is healed, suggest that a direct impact was the cause rather than a bimanual strangulation,” the team writes.  
Furthermore the place where this man lived, Motilla del Azuer, was clearly built with war in mind. “It was a fortification, surrounded by a small settlement and a necropolis,” a team of archaeologists led by Trinidad Nájera Colino and Fernando Molina González said in a 2007 press release.
The mound of the fortification which has been recovered has a diameter of about 50 metres, and is composed of a tower, two walled enclosures and a large courtyard.” The tower was “7 metres high, east and west.”


  1. Would this injury have prevented him from speaking?

    Did he have the skeletal modifications expected for a person who trained for and took part in military service? He seems to be a tad on the small side to have been recruited for military service from the local population. That suggests he may have had other duties than military such as food production, cleaning, manufacturing, whatever.

  2. Thank you for your comment Dwight! Yes, it's quite possible that the broken hyoid bone affected his ability to speak. This bone anchors the tongue and without the anchor it probably would have made speaking more difficult for him.

    Your right, by our standards he is a pretty lean fellow. A modern army would have put him through a lot of strength building before using him.

    There isn't enough information to say for sure whether he played a front line or logistics role in the local military. He lived to be in his 40's so he could have played both at different times of his life.

  3. Weren't people of that time a good deal smaller than today in general?

  4. Generally, yes, they were a bit smaller. That doesn't mean that they were not robust. I wrote a story six months back on a 4,500 year old man from Northern Ontario who had a "very, very robust muscular build."

  5. Someone should write a story about this man.

  6. Amazingly enough the injury healed and the man lived to be in his 40’s. He was five and a half feet and had a “moderate” build. Joe Mitchell


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