Skeletons of the “Amesbury Archer” and the “Companion”. Personal observations by Keith Rodger
There are many interesting thing to tell visitors about these two individuals. Chemical analysis of teeth and bones tell us that the Archer probably came to the Amesbury area from the central European Alps whereas the Companion was born here, perhaps two generations later, travelled to central Europe and then returned to die in his mid-twenties. This says much of the ability to travel in the late Neolithic. We can also learn a lot by simple observation through the glass of the display cabinets.
The archer has lost the patella (kneecap) from his left leg, Fig 1. Comparing the bones of his two legs, we can see that the left is slimmer than the right. However, be careful, their orientations differ and the difference is less that it appears. This asymmetry is consistent with the theory that the archer favoured the injured limb by limping. This would have caused the muscle of the left leg to diminish and that in turn would cause the bone to waste.
Further examination shows that the right tibia (shinbone) has a thickening consistent with a healed fracture Fig 2. It is possible that the longitudinal cracks in the bone indicated in Fig 3 are the result of this healing; however, this must be treated with caution without detailed examination by an osteo-archaeologist. He was an adult when the fracture occurred.
The cause of the archer’s injuries are of course unknown, but one notes that he was buried wearing a boar’s tusk. Were these two injuries received at the same time and caused by a hunted boar?
The companion is only represented in the Museum by two gold ornaments, similar to those found with the archer, and a boar’s tusk. However, reportedly (I have not seen his skeleton.) he and the archer shared an anomalous structure, called a talocalcaneal coalition, in the skeleton of the foot. Anatomically this feature is a kind of extra joint: Fig 4 shows a normal foot X-ray and Fig 5 the skeleton of the archer. This condition is unusual, about 1:1000, rather than rare, and it is inherited. This does not mean that the companion was a direct descendant of the archer, although the proximity of their graves might hint at that. The nature of the inheritance of the anomaly is such that it is common in families not associated with the sex genes (autosomal dominant) but scarce in the wider population. Thus, it might be quite common in a particular group, less so in near neighbours and almost unrepresented further afield. It seems reasonable to suppose that the archer arrived with kin and near neighbours and that the companion is a descendant of one of that group.
Here we note that Wikipedia states that:
“A male skeleton found interred nearby is believed to be that of a younger man related to the Archer, as they shared a rare hereditary anomaly, calcaneonavicular coalition, fusing of the calcaneus and of the navicular tarsal (foot bones).”
Clearly, this is wrong: the archer does have a “coalition” but between the talus and the calcaneus, the anomaly does not involve the navicular bone nor has it fused (“synostosis” is the correct medical term for a fusion). Fusions are indeed rare, coalitions much less so, it its quite likely that the reader will know someone with a “coalition” it is very unlikely that they will have met anyone with a “fusion”. (However, I have – so there!!) Generally, a coalition has little clinical significance; there may be a slight tendency to sprained ankles due to a slight loss of flexibility and possibly arthritis in old age, but it is unlikely that the archer experienced any problem. They occur on the medial (inside) of the foot.
I am indebted to my wife, a retired radiologist, who proof-read the above and ensured that the long words are in the correct places. The text however represents my personal observations and any error is mine alone.