4.3 Terminology

One of the first steps taken in creating the generic methodology was to establish the terminology. This was necessary because of the inconsistencies in existing vocabulary. These inconsistencies have come about in a variety of ways. Firstly, there is the question of whether clinical veterinary terminology should be adopted by palaeopathologists dealing with animals. Since a number of veterinarians have greatly contributed to the field of animal palaeopathology (e.g. Baker 1984), it is not surprising that clinical terminology has been adopted by non-clinicians. In many instances this has been beneficial, providing an internationally recognised, scientific basis for research; however, modern veterinarians may not observe, nor necessarily be interested in, all of the conditions found in archaeological assemblages. Many modern animals, for example, are slaughtered before pathological conditions become sufficiently chronic to affect the skeleton. It is fair to say, therefore, that veterinary terminology is not always appropriate. However, where specific terms exist, these should be employed and preferred over terms used in human osteology, which may have different meanings.

Another problem has been the use of colloquialisms. These are terms used by both farmers and veterinarians that, while generally understood, are often localised in distribution. They may, therefore, be a source of confusion to others working in another area of the same country, let alone those working in other countries and whose first language might not be English. Such expressions were omitted from the recording system with the intention of making it comprehensible to a wide audience.

The glossary defines a few basic terms for recording pathological lesions, which are discussed in more detail below. The many terms found in the animal palaeopathological literature were reduced to a smaller number of more generic terms that would be easily understood by non-specialists, while at the same time providing sufficient options to cover the great majority of pathologies. For example, in this recording system, smooth outgrowths of bone are simply noted as 'nodules', a term which includes both enthesophytes and osteophytes, as well as bone out-growths whose origins are much less clear. Destructive lesions that may be termed cysts, myeloma, cloaca, for example, are simply recorded as 'cavities'. However, if it is possible to provide more specific descriptive terms for either bone-forming or bone-destroying lesions, this should also be included on the form.

These recommended terms are intended to improve consistency and reduce inter-observer variability by encouraging the consistent use of a limited number of terms. Furthermore, as much of the variation in terminology is dependent to some degree on diagnosis, this restriction helps to focus attention purely on what is seen and can be described, rather than the cause of the condition. More specific terminology can then be applied once more information has been gained about the lesion.


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Last updated: Wednesday 8th November 2006