The story of my bones

cavemanI was going to call this “My osteobiography,” but who would click on that?

This is inspired by the news about Kennewick Man, which I discuss over on my peace blog; he was a traveler who lived about 9,000 years ago, died in what is now southern Washington State, and seems to have come from further to the northwest.

Scientists studying his bones can tell that he had six broken ribs which never healed, and also two skull fractures, and also the tip of a spear embedded in his pelvis. (Well, anyone looking at the pelvis can see that, scientist or not — here’s the link to a Smithsonian article about him:

The spear to the pelvis was not what killed him; he carried that for 20 or 25 years, they say.)

As I wrote on my peace blog, I find all this information sobering. It shows just how violent our species has been. I’ve read enough history to know that we are living in a relatively pleasant time, now, compared to any previous human era; but still, a skeleton like this, or like Otzi the Iceman’s body, makes it clear just how much time our forebears spent getting shot at (with arrows), beaten, speared, and clubbed. And those were the men!  Who knows how much else the women suffered.

But . . . even with Kennewick’s ravaged body, we can’t be sure.  Maybe the spear wound was a hunting accident.  One of my uncles shot my grandfather in a hunting accident, so I’m aware these things happen.  (He survived.  Actually, both survived, ahem.) Also, the broken ribs may have been from another hunting accident; Kennewick probably hunted large game, at close quarters, so he may have been charged by a walrus or a moose or something.  And the skull fractures . . . well, yeah, those must have been people throwing rocks at him — I don’t know how else that would have happened. (The Smithsonian article conjectures about yet another hunting accident, but I don’t see it.)

And I wonder: What would scientists in the far future think about my bones (in the unlikely event that anyone ever gives a rat’s ass about them)?

“This male seems to have died at the age of 85.” [Hey, I’m an optimist. My dad’s dad made it that long.] “His knees show extreme wear; he may have spent his life running away from deadly predators.” [Actually, I play too much soccer.] “A worn depression in his left lower leg, from where a ligament once connected, shows he fell or jumped from a significant height around age 19, again likely fleeing a predator or another human.” [Yeah . . . actually, once in college, I was at the point in an evening where I thought it would be a good idea to jump down an entire flight of outdoor steps.] “His chin shows trauma from about age 10, likely when an adult male from a rival clan attempted to knock off his head with a war hammer.” [Bicycle accident.] “Finally, the male has an unusual and unexplained knot of bone at the rear of his skull, possibly from mid-life regrowth after another blunt-object attack from a rival male.” [Actually that’s just a strange bump on the back of my skull; for a long time I thought everyone had one. Barbers often bang up against it by mistake with their clippers.]

“Notwithstanding the obviously violent life this subject endured, we can hope he was able to find some enjoyment in his world and time despite its dangers and brutality. The fact that he was able to survive the war-hammer attack at age 10 likely demonstrates that there were at least a few clan members who cared enough about him to provide such rudimentary medical care as was available.”




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