Anatomical Interpretations of Anglo-Saxon Weapon Injuries

Anatomical Interpretations of Anglo-Saxon Weapon Injuries

By S. J. Wenham

Weapons and Warfare in Anglo-Saxon England, edited by Sonia Chadwick Hawkes (Oxford University, 1989)

Introduction: The bodies of the slain were one of the inevitable end-products of Anglo-Saxon warfare. Whatever their date, such bodies can shed light on aggression at that time; but unfortunately ancient bodies survive for study only rarely. Therefore, the paleopathologist must turn to the bones of the slain to study injuries resulting from ancient aggression.

The study of bones rather than whole bodies has obvious limitations, since it was the complete injury, including soft tissue injuries, which had its effect upon the victim. Indeed, many injuries never contact the bone and hence are ‘lost’ since all evidence of them has disappeared.

The main concern of this study has been the investigation of Anglo-Saxon skeletal material from the cemetery at Eccles, Kent, with some comparative study. From the cemetery äs a whole, a high percentage namely six, skeletons, show evidence of fatal edged weapon injury. One of the aims of the study was an accurate anatomical description of each injury, leading to a reconstruction of the entire injury, including its soft tissue component. The reconstruction allows a consideration of the effects of the injury on the victim and hence of possible causes of death.

The study also aimed to describe and to investigate experimentally the macro- and microscopic behaviour of bone when subjected to edged weapon injury. This led to the development of diagnostic criteria which allowed the positive identification of such injuries. Finally, the study attempted to relate the Eccles skeletons to Anglo-Saxon weapons and their mode of use.

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