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The Upper Paleolithic triple burial of Dolní Vestonice: pathology and funerary behavior.

  • Formicola, V
  • Pontrandolfi, A
  • Svoboda, J
Published Article
American journal of physical anthropology
Publication Date
Aug 01, 2001
PMID: 11471135


This work focuses on paleopathological analysis of one of the skeletons from the Gravettian triple burial of Dolní Vestonice (Moravia) and addresses issues of Upper Paleolithic funerary behavior. The burial includes the well-preserved skeletons of three young individuals. The skeleton in the middle (DV 15) is pathological and very problematic to sex; the other two (DV 13 and DV 14) are males and lie in an unusual position. The young age, the possibility of a simultaneous interment, and the position of the three specimens have given rise to speculations about the symbolic significance of this spectacular and intriguing funerary pattern. The pathological condition of the skeleton in the middle further emphasizes its peculiarity. Main pathological changes of the DV 15 skeleton include: asymmetric shortening of the right femur and of left forearm bones, bowing of the right femur, right humerus, and left radius, elongation of fibulae, dysplasias of the vertebral column, and very marked enamel hypoplasias. Scrutiny of the medical literature suggests that the most likely etiology is chondrodysplasia calcificans punctata (CCP) complicated by trauma and early fractures of the upper limbs. CCP is a rare inherited disorder characterized by stippled ossification of the epiphyses. The cartilaginous stippling is a transient phenomenon that disappears during infancy, leaving permanent deformities on affected bones. Among the different forms of CCP, the X-linked dominant form is that resulting in asymmetric shortening and is lethal during early infancy in males. Thus, survival of DV 15 until young adult age would require the specimen to be a female. Clinical findings often associated with the disease (erythemas, ichthyosis, alopecia, cataracts, and joint contractures, among others) would emphasize the singular aspect of this individual, pointing to a condition that should be carefully taken into account when speculating on the significance of that peculiar burial.

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