Bear phalanx traumatically introduced into a living human: prehistoric evidence

Gary D. Richards, Hillary M. Ojeda, Rebecca Jabbour, Caitlin L. Ibarra, Caroline F. Horton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


<p> <p id="x-x-x-x-spar0015"> Traumatically induced skeletal injuries are common and can be ascribed to a normal range of events occurring in an individual's lifetime. A subset of these trauma-induced injuries provides enhanced insight into cultural history. Such cases might include those referable to medico-surgical and religious/ritualistic practices. We describe prehistoric evidence and cultural implications of the traumatic insertion of an <em> Ursus </em> manual phalanx into the elbow of a living human. The injury healed and the phalanx remained <em> in situ </em> until death. <p id="x-x-x-x-spar0020"> The individual derives from the Ellis Landing shellmound and dates to a subphase of the Middle Period (&asymp;500BC&ndash;300AD) in the California cultural sequence. The remains are of a 30&ndash;40 year-old female. Comparative data on arm morphology and pathological conditions present were collected ( <em> n </em> = 159). Three <em> Ursus </em> subspecies ( <em> n </em> = 15) were examined to identify the taxon represented by the phalanx. <p id="x-x-x-x-spar0025"> The described individual was probably wearing bear paw ornaments at the time she was crushed by a heavy object. During this event, a bear claw was driven into her cubital fossa, the basal phalangeal tubercle being impressed into the humerus. The wound healed completely. The presence of <em> Ursus </em> body parts indicates an elevated societal role for this female; most likely she was a shaman or healer. </p> </p> </p></p>
Original languageAmerican English
JournalInternational Journal of Paleopathology
StatePublished - Mar 1 2013


  • Prehistoric trauma
  • Shaman
  • Bear doctor
  • Societal roles
  • Female healers


  • Biology

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