Surviving (but not thriving) after cranial vault trauma: A case study from Transylvania

Jonathan D. Bethard, Timothy J. Ainger, Andre Gonciar, Zsolt Nyárádi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To link an antemortem cranial injury on the left parietal bone with potential neurocognitive consequences. Materials: The skeleton of a male individual from a Székely archaeological site in Transylvania was examined. The skeleton was radiocarbon dated to Cal AD 1450 and AD 1640 and presented a well-healed antemortem penetrating cranial injury on the left parietal bone. Methods: Macroscopic and radiographic analyses were conducted and the cranium was also archived digitally with a Faro FreeStyle3D scanner. In addition, well-known literature from neuroscience was synthesized in order to better understand the likely neurological consequences of the injury. Results: The literature suggests that tasks of attention and working memory, sensory processing, language processing, and vision are affected when the parietal lobe of the brain is injured. Conclusions: Burial 195 did not likely return to a ‘normal’ life after he survived the cranial injury. Significance: This study demonstrates that bioarcheological interpretations involving antemortem cranial injuries can be enhanced by collaboration with neuroscientists. Bioarcheological interpretations are improved when the consequences of soft tissue injuries are understood. Limitations: This study was limited by a lack of historical documents relevant to the region, time period, and specific case study. In addition, interpretations are cautionary because brain functioning cannot be assessed in vivo in the absence of life. Suggestions for further research: Bioarcheologists who study antemortem cranial injuries should continue to collaborate with neuroscientists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-129
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Paleopathology
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the authors of this special issue of the IJPP for including our contribution, as well as the other contributors who participated in the 2019 symposium at the EAA meeting. We would like to thank the Haáz Rezső Múzeum for their continued support of this long-term project. We acknowledge the Boston University Ryan Center For Sports Medicine for generously providing the radiographs utilized in this study. We also acknowledge Laura Harrison and the Access 3D Laboratory at the University of South Florida for skillfully producing the 3D scan of the cranium described in this piece. Finally, we would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and feedback related to this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.


  • Antemortem cranial trauma
  • Care
  • Székely region
  • TBI
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Archaeology


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