Ancient Greek warrior lived to old age with debilitating war wound, reveals Long Island X-ray

Ancient Greek warrior lived to old age with debilitating war wound, reveals Long Island X-ray

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X-rays of the 2,500 year-old remains of an ancient Greek warrior show that he lived for years with an arrowhead embedded in his forearm, causing him severe pain until his death around the age of 60.



The old soldier’s remains, which were discovered during an archaeological excavation in Greece in the mid 1980s, made the trans-Atlantic journey from the Archaeology Museum of Kavala to the North Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center for forensic examination.

Anagnostis Agelarakis, a professor of anthropology at Long Island’s Adelphi University, believes the warrior was buried around the time of Philip II, who ruled Macedonia from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC; he was succeeded by his son Alexander the Great.

Prof Agelarakis deduced that the shaft of the arrow and part of the bronze arrowhead had been removed from the warrior’s forearm by Greek surgeons at the time of the injury.  The X-ray, taken by radiologist Helise Coopersmith, confirmed that the rest of the arrowhead was barbed and had to be kept in place to preserve the tissue of the arm.

Dr Coopersmith noted that crude attempts to remove the arrowhead without anaesthesia would have been extremely painful, although the anaesthetic properties of opium poppies are thought to have been well known in the ancient world; the word ‘anaesthesia’ itself derives from the ancient Greek word ‘anaesthetos‘ meaning ‘lack of feeling‘.

Prof Agelarakis reckons that the warrior survived the injury because of the medical attention he was given – the lack of any immediate infection of the bone suggests the wound was kept clean – but he went on to live with the embedded arrowhead until his death at the age of between 58 to 62 years.  The nature of the injury means that the warrior would have suffered the loss of some mobility in his arm and a weakened hand grip.  He would also have lived with constant pain, akin to very severe carpal tunnel syndrome.

The 2500 year old bone fragment of the ancient Greek warrior's forearm, with embedded arrowhead - image by North Shore-LIJ
The 2500 year old bone fragment of the ancient Greek warrior’s forearm, with embedded arrowhead – image by North Shore-LIJ

Source: North Shore-LIJ

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