4.0 Developing a Generic Recording Protocol for Animal Palaeopathology

4.1 Introduction

As we have established, in order to unlock the potential of animal palaeopathology, a change in method away from a diagnostic-centric approach is required. As such, a generic recording methodology that all archaeozoologists could use, and that covers all species and all pathological conditions, would permit pathologies to be recorded consistently even when it is not possible to determine the aetiology. However, if such a methodology is to be devised, several factors need to be taken into consideration. These include (Vann in prep):

The calculation of the prevalence of any condition is absolutely essential, as it is only if we can determine the percentage of the assemblage affected by a pathology that we will be able to move beyond the 'interesting specimens' approach. No inter-site comparison, or assessment of the archaeological implications of certain pathologies can be made unless we know the relative frequency of pathological compared with non-pathological specimens (Thomas and Mainland 2005, 2). It is therefore necessary to regard pathologies as part of a complete assemblage, rather than in isolation, taking care to note the numbers of both pathological and non-pathological elements and, where possible, anatomical zones, for each species.

However, perhaps the most significant recommendation of any recording system is the emphasis on description over diagnosis. O'Connor (2000) considered the following aspects of a description to be essential; aspects which are also highlighted as critical in Brickley and McKinley's recording protocol for human bone (2004, 35):

It is more important to have the description than the diagnosis. Our knowledge of animal palaeopathology is not sufficiently complete for there to be consensus on the diagnostic traits of every condition. Even in human palaeopathology, which has seen significantly more research carried out on a wide variety of pathologies, it is possible to have misdiagnoses, or for more than one condition to show similar symptoms. By providing a sufficiently detailed description, the researcher makes it possible for others to judge the accuracy of the provided diagnosis, or to re-evaluate it in the light of new research.

In order to establish a common language and encourage the accurate description of palaeopathological lesions, a system has been developed to facilitate the macromorphological recording of palaeopathological lesions observed on animal bones. This scheme forms part of an on-going study (Vann, in prep.), that will ultimately result in the production of a database-driven implementation. While specific methodologies for particular types of pathological lesions already exist (e.g. Bartosiewicz et al. 1997), and these will ultimately be incorporated into the final version, the present article outlines generic guidance for recording all types of pathologies.


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Last updated: Wednesday 8th November 2006