Ancient History & Civilisation


Abscess An abscess is a localized collection of pus in a cavity that is formed by the disintegration of tissue. In the case of dental abscess, they often occur within the alveolar bone near the apex of the root of a tooth.

Acetabulum This is the portion of the hip joint formed by the coxa. It is the socket, which articulates with the head of the femur.

Aetiology The study of the origins, causes and reasons for diseases and the way in which they operate. When a disorder is described as being of unknown aetiology, it means that the cause is not known.

Alveolar Derived from the Latin, alveolus, meaning little holes. The term refers to tooth sockets.

Alveolar resorption The removal of alveolar bone.

Amphitheatre A type of structure with no Greek antecedents. Oval in plan, its primary purpose was to seat the spectators of gladiatorial fights and other spectacles. The earliest surviving amphitheatre is in Pompeii and dates to about 80 BC.

Anatomic position The standard for anatomical descriptions. It involves an erect posture with the arms at the side and the palms facing forward.

Ankylosis An abnormal consolidation of a joint, which immobilizes it.

Anomaly Unlike the usual form.

Ante mortem Prior to death.

Anthropometric The measurement of the human form.

Anthropometry Measurement of the human body.

Aperture An opening.

Apex The most superior point of the skull, directly superior to the porion.

Apical Towards the apex or tip of the root of a tooth.

Apodyterium The equivalent of a cloak room or changing room in a bath complex. It was also thought to serve as a waiting room for slaves and attendants.

Appendicular skeleton The bones of the limbs, the shoulder and pelvic girdles, but not the sacrum.

Apposition To fit together.

Arthritis The inflammation of a joint.

Arthropathy Any disease that affects the joints.

Articulation A normal point of contact between two adjacent bones. Ash Fragmentary or pulverized volcanic materials.

Asterion The external point where the lambdoid and temporoparietal sutures intersect.

Asterionic bone An extra-sutural or wormian bone. It tends to be triangular in shape and occurs at the junction of the lambdoid and temporoparietal suture. The boundaries for this bone are the parietal, temporal and occipital bones.

Atrium The central hall of a traditional house of Italic design.

Atrophy Wasting away and reduction in size.

Attrition In the context of skeletal biology, this term refers to the wearing down of a structure from abrasion as a result of use; usually applied to tooth wear.

Auricular Earlike. In the human skeleton, the auricular surface refers to the articular surface between the sacrum and the ilium, which is vaguely shaped like an ear.

Axial skeleton The skull, vertebrae, ribs, sternum and sacrum.

Basicranium The bones of the base of the cranium.

Basilar Base (of the skull). This term is also used to describe the suture on the base of the skull between the occipital and the sphenoid.

Basion A landmark situated at the midpoint of the anterior margin of the foramen magnum.

Bicuspid A premolar tooth is also known as a bicuspid as it generally has two cusps.

Bifid Cleft into two parts.

Bimodal A frequency distribution of numerical data that has two peaks or modes.

Biological age This term is used as an acknowledgement of the fact that there is not a linear relationship between growth and actual or chronological age. Biological age provides an indication of where an individual can be placed on the continuum of the ageing process.

Bitumen Any natural hydrocarbon. It is also known as mineral pitch.

Bombs Fist sized or larger lumps of rock that are ejected during an eruption.

Bony exostosis An additional, often abnormal, overgrowth of bone in a localized area.

Boss A protuberance or rounded eminence.

Brachy Short. For example, brachydactyly means short fingers.

Brachycephalic Interchangeable with brachycranic. Short-headed. It is defined by having a cephalic index above 80.

Bregma Derived from a Greek word, meaning moist. In anatomy, it refers to the site of the anterior fontanelle (or little fountain), which is at the junction of the coronal and sagittal sutures in the midline of the skull. The brain can be felt pulsating at this point in early infancy. It is located at the midline at the point of intersection between the coronal and sagittal sutures.

Bruxism Generally unconscious tooth grinding, which is usually associated with greater forces on the teeth than chewing and can result in significant tooth wear.

Calcaneus Derived from the Latin, calx, refers to the bone of the heel.

Calculus Dental calculus is mineralized plaque. It is also called tartar.

Caldarium Hot room in a bath complex.

Caldera A broad depression, generally circular in form and volcanic in origin. It characteristically has a diameter that is greater than one kilometre and sub-vertical walls. A caldera is createdwhenasectionthatoverliesthemagma chamber collapses and the chamber empties out in a violent eruption.

Calliper In this context a calliper is a device used to measure bones. It can have either spreading or sliding arms.

Callus. An unorganized network of woven bone that forms at the site of a bone fracture. It is normally replaced as the bone heals.

Calvarium (pl. Calvaria) The portion of the skull containing the brain, namely, the cranium. This term refers to the area above the supraorbital ridge and the superior nuchal line and does not include the facial skeleton.

Canal A tunnel or channel.

Cancellous Derived from the Latin, cancelli, meaning grating or lattice. Refers to spongy bone with a lattice-like structure. It is porous and lightweight and is found under protuberances and where tendons attach, in the vertebral bodies, the ends of long bones, short bones and is sandwiched within flat bones. It is also known as trabecular bone.

Canine tooth Single-rooted tooth between the lateral incisor and the first premolar.

Capsule From the Latin capsa, or box.

Caries Decay, resulting in the softening, discolouration and destruction of a tooth. It involves the decalcification of enamel or dentine.

Carpus Wrist. Carpals are bones of the wrist.

Cartilage Specialized fibrous connective tissue. Its key characteristics are that it is not mineralized and that it is tough and elastic.

Cartilaginous joint A joint where the articulating bones are united by cartilage, which restricts movement.

Cementum Bony tissue that covers the roots of the teeth.

Cervical This term relates to the neck. The vertebrae of the neck are known as the cervical vertebrae. This word is also used to describe the margin between the root and crown of a tooth (also known as the cervicoenamel line or junction (CEJ)).

Chondral Relating to cartilage.

Chronological age The actual age of an individual.

Clavicle The collarbone. This bone articulates medially with the sternum and laterally with the scapula.

Closed population This is a population that does not experience either immigration or emigration of people.

Collagen A supportive protein substance that is a major organic component of cartilage and bone.

Colles fracture This is a transverse fracture at the distal end of a radius. It often results from falling on an outstretched arm.

Comminute This refers to breakage into small pieces. A comminuted fracture is one in which the bone splinters.

Commingled Bone assemblages that contain a number of individuals. These assemblages are often incomplete and fragmentary.

Compact bone Dense, solid bone that makes up the walls of bone shafts and external bone surfaces. It is also known as cortical bone.

Compound fracture This term is used for a fracture where the broken bone perforates the skin.

Condyle Derived from the Greek kondylos or knuckle. A condyle is a rounded eminence. This term is often used to describe rounded articular surfaces, such as those on the mandible and the femur.

Congenital A condition that is present at birth. Such conditions are acquired during development and are not genetic.

Cord This term is used to describe a straight line that joins two points on a curve.

Coronal suture This suture separates the frontal from the parietal bones.

Corpus Body.

Cortex The outer, more dense portions of bone.

Costal Ribs.

Coxa Another term for the hip or innominate bone. It is formed by the fusion of the ischium, pubis and ilium.

Cranial Towards the head.

Cranial sutures These are fibrous joints of the skull.

Cranium The skull without the mandible or hyoid bone.

Crater A sub-circular depression, which is usually located at the summit or along the sides of the volcanic edifice, above the volcanic conduit. The volcanic material is emitted through the crater.

Cribra orbitalia Lesions that present as bilateral pitting that can be observed in the orbital part of the frontal bone.

Cryptoporticus A subterranean covered portico.

Cusp A conical projection of the crown of a tooth.

Cuspid An elevation in a tooth that is smaller than a cusp.

CT scans Computed (axial) tomography (CT) scans were developed by Hounsfield in 1972. This technique enables computerized image reconstruction from a series of cross-sectional x-ray scans.

Cyst An abnormal sac that contains solid or liquid material.

Deciduous To shed. Deciduous dentition refers to the primary or milk teeth, which are shed and replaced with the permanent teeth.

Dehiscence This means to burst open or to split and refers to the presence of extra slits in a bone.

Demography The study of population statistics.

Dentin The major constituent of a tooth, also known as ivory.

Diagenesis Physical, chemical and biological changes to bone over time. It includes the uptake of elements from the surrounding soil or leaching of elements into the surrounding soil. Apparently the outer compact layer of bone is less susceptible to diagenesis than the trabecular bone, which provides less reliable data.

Diaphysis The shaft of a long bone. It is also the primary ossification centre of a long bone.

Diploë The spongy tissue between the inner and outer tables of the cranial bones.

Dimorphism See sexual dimorphism.

Disarticulate Separate.

Dolichocephalic Interchangeable with dolicocranic. Long-headed. It is defined by a cephalic index below 75.

DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid A class of complex molecules called nucleic acids. DNA is found in the nucleus of virtually all living cells. It contains the genetic code that is required for a cell to produce the proteins needed to perform its function.

Dysplasia An abnormality of development.

Eburnation The polished surface of bone that is produced over time after the destruction of articular cartilage, as a result of contact between adjacent bones at the joint.

Ectocranial The external surface of the cranium.

Enamel The hard outer structure of the tooth.

Enamel hypoplasia Malformation of the crown of a tooth, including linear furrowing, a complete lack of enamel or pitting. These can occur as a result of periods of malnutrition or ill health during the period in infancy and childhood when the crown is being formed. It should be noted that periods of stress do not always result in enamel hypoplasia and a lack of enamel hypoplasia is not necessarily an indicator of good health and nutrition during the growing years.

Endemic A disease that is specific to a locality or region and reoccurs persistently in that population.

Endocranial Within the cranium.

Epicondyle An eminence at the articular end of a bone above a condyle.

Epidemic A disease that spreads rapidly and widely in a population and is difficult to control.

Epidemiology The study of causes and transmission of disease.

Epigenetic traits Anomalous skeletal variants, which are generally nonpathological. On the whole, these present as innocuous features on the bone.

Epigraphic Written evidence; it includes inscriptions and graffiti.

Epiphysis A secondary centre of ossification of a long bone. It is separated from the shaft of a bone by cartilage, also known as the epiphyseal plate, which ossifies when growth has been completed.

Eruption An explosion of fused solid or gaseous volcanic material from the crater after the rise of magma in the volcanic conduit.

Eversion To turn outward.

Evulsion To extract.

Exostosis An additional, often abnormal, overgrowth of bone in a localized area.

Facet A small, smooth area on a bone or tooth, which serves as a point of contact between bones or teeth. Tooth facets are often produced by wear.

Fallout The settling and deposition of particulate matter out of an eruption plume and onto the surface of the ground. This includes volcanic aerosols and tephra.

Falx Sickle-shaped structure. In the case of the frontal bone, it is a sickleshaped structure in the midsection of the inner table.

Fecundity The biological potential for bearing children.

Femur Thigh bone.

Fibula The outer, or lateral, lower leg bone.

Fissure Deep grooves or cracks. It can also be used to describe a fault in a tooth surface, which can result from an imperfect union of two lobes or cusps.

Flexion Bending.

Fontanelle Areas of membrane between the ossification centres of infant cranial bones. It literally means a small spring or fountain.

Foramen A small opening or hole.

Foramen magnum Large opening at the base of the skull, through which the spinal cord passes. It is the largest opening of the skull.

Forensic Related to the law. Forensic medicine is legal medicine.

Forum A public area in a Roman town, which served numerous functions, including as a centre for business, judicial activities and as a marketplace.

Fossa A depression or pit.

Frigidarium Cool room and bath in a bath complex.

Frontal The frontal bone is the bone of the forehead.

Fuller Fullers dealt with the manufacture and cleaning of cloth

Fusion This is the term used to describe a union of two adjacent bones or parts of bone.

Gingivae In the jaws, the alveolar process is covered with a layer of soft tissue, which is known as the mucosa. It is gathered up in a cuff at the base of the crown of each tooth. The mucosa that actually forms the cuff is known as the gingivae.

Glabella The most anterior point of the forehead. This landmark is located in the midline at the level of the supraorbital ridges.

Gnathion This landmark is the most anterior inferior point of the mandible in the median sagittal plane.

Gonial angle This is the angle formed by the intersection of the horizontal body and ascending ramus of the mandible.

Gonion The most lateral external point of the gonial angle of the mandible. The lowest posterior and most outward point of the angle of the mandible.

Gracile From the Latin gracilis, which means slender.

Growth Progressive changes in size and morphology during the development of an individual. Growth tends to be positively correlated with age.

Growth plate region The site of formation of bone tissue in a long bone that is growing. The growth plate consists of rows of cartilage cells that are highly ordered. The row that is furthest removed from the bony shaft is known as a germinative layer and it is responsible for cell replication and cartilage growth at the bone shaft. Eventually, the cartilage will be re-formed into true bone tissue.

Haematoma A mass or pocket of blood that is outside the circulatory system.

Head In an anatomical context, a head is a rounded smooth eminence that articulates with another bone.

Heterogeneous Mixed.

Histology Investigation of the microscopic structure of tissues.

Homogeneous Of the same kind or alike.

Homologous Derived from common ancestry.

Humerus The upper arm bone.

Hyaline cartilage The translucent cartilage that covers the articular surface of a bone.

Hyperostosis An abnormal growth of bone tissue. It usually results in the development of bone tissue that projects from the normal surface of the bone.

Hyperostotic trait Associated with excessive ossification into structures that are usually made up of cartilage or dura.

Hyperplasia An abnormal increase of cells in a structure.

Hyperthermia When the body temperature is elevated to a temperature that is significantly higher than normal.

Hypoplasia This is an incomplete or defective development of tissue. This term is usually applied to problems with the development of dental enamel.

Hypostotic traits These traits reflect neotony in that they involve the retention of forms that are usually visible in the embryonic or early infant state, such as metopic sutures or inca bones.

Ilium Dorsal part of the innominate bone.

Inca bone This epigenetic trait results from a failure of the suture that runs from asterion to asterion to unite. The occipital bone is separated into two or more parts by a transverse suture, the upper part of which is defined as an inca bone.

Incisal Cutting or biting edge of the incisor teeth.

Incisor The first two front, or anterior, teeth on each side of the mandible and the maxilla.

Innominate bone The hip bone or pelvis. Also known as the os coxa.

Insula Derived from the Latin word for island and is used to describe an ancient city block.

Intercondylar Between condyles.

Interpopulation Between populations. Interpopulation differences are variations between populations.

Intrapopulation Within a population. Intrapopulation variation refers to differences within a population.

Isis This Egyptian goddess is best known as the sister and wife of Osiris, as well as the mother of Horus and the protector of Imseti.

Lambda The midline point of intersection of the sagittal and lambdoid sutures.

Lapilli Volcanic fragments, ranging from 2 to 64 mm in size that are ejected during an explosive eruption. Also used to describe pumice stones.

Lararium Household shrine. These shrines were dedicated to the household gods, the lares.

Lava Rock formed by the cooling of magma after it has been ejected from a volcano. The term is also used to describe the magma when it is being ejected.

Life tables These are mathematical devices that are designed to measure the duration of certain phenomena. In demography, life tables usually measure the duration of life.

Magma Material that is derived from the fusion of rock at high temperatures. These can range from 900 to 1200° C. Magma is siliceous in composition.

Magmatic chamber The zone where magma accumulates beneath the surface of the earth. Magma can remain still for long periods of time before rising through the volcanic conduit and reaching the surface, thus creating an eruption.

Mastoid process A large protuberance of the skull behind and below the external ear. This is the point of attachment for the sternomastoid muscle.

Menarche The time of the first menstrual period.

Menopause This is the sudden or gradual end of the menstrual cycle, which happens as a result of the loss of ovarian function.

Metopic suture A midline fibrous joint between the two bones that make up the frontal bone. It is generally obliterated by the growth and fusion of the two bones by 8 years of age.

Metric analysis is that based on measurements as compared to non-metric, which is based on observations rather than measurements.

Mofeta Term employed by the eighteenth-century excavators to describe the noxious gases, notably carbon monoxide, that were trapped in the volcanic debris that covered the Vesuvian sites.

Morphology The study of shape and form.

Multifactorial inheritance This term applies to bone as the features of a bone result from a combination of genes and the environment.

Mummy Mummies are preserved corpses of humans or other animals. In ancient Egypt this was done intentionally. The word mummy is derived from the Persian múmiyá, which means bitumen.

Nasion This is a landmark in the midline at the root of the nose, where it joins the forehead.

Neonate A newborn infant under 28 days of age.

Neotony The retention of infantile or juvenile traits into adulthood.

Non-metric Observations made directly from bone where no measurement is involved.

Nulliparous Women who have not had a pregnancy come to term.

Occiput The occiput is the back of the skull.

Occlusion Dental occlusion refers to the way teeth fittogetherwithinand between the jaws. Normal occlusion is a standard, based on a young adult with complete dentition with all the teeth arranged in a regular and symmetrical fashion.

Pacchionian depressions Small pits or depressions that can be seen on the sides of the superior margin of the parietal bone.

Palaestra An open space that was used for sport and exercise. It was generally enclosed by colonnades.

Palaeoepidemiology The study of disease in an ancient community.

Palaeopathology In 1892, R.W. Schufeldt, a German scholar, introduced the term palaeopathology to describe the study of the illnesses of ancient human remains. Palaeopathology can be defined as the study of diseases in ancient populations, based on examination of skeletal remains and preserved soft tissues.

Parturition Childbirth; the process of giving birth.

Perimortem Occurring at or around the time of death.

Peristyle An internal courtyard, which is generally flanked by a colonnade.

Perthes disease This pathology generally has a distinctive appearance that is described as a ‘mushroom shaped’ femoral head. A disorder that results from an obstruction of the blood supply to the growing femoral head with resulting necrosis. It occurs four times as frequently in males than females and is most apparent on the femoral head, which appears deformed, flattened and widened. The femoral neck tends to be widened and is shorter than normal.2

Plaque Dental plaque is made up of a dense accumulation of micro-organisms on the surface of the tooth. Most of the diseases that affect erupted teeth are due in some measure to dental plaque.

Plastic The capacity of a biological material, like bone, to be modified by the environment, often during the period of growth and development. This can also occur as a result of disease or trauma.

Plinian eruption Named after the description of the AD 79 eruption of Mt Vesuvius by Pliny the Younger in his letters to Tacitus. These are major explosive eruptions, which produce very high columns of ash and pumice that can rise tens of kilometres above the volcano and which result in considerable fallout.

Postmortem Occurring after death.

Prognathism A forward projection of one or both jaws from their normal relationship.

Pumice A froth of volcanic glass that forms very vesicular and low-density bubble rich material. It is usually light grey in colour. It has been suggested that the word derives from the Greek spuma, which means foam. Pumice bombs are greater than 64 mm in size, pumice lapilli are between 2 and 64 mm and when it is less than 2 mm in diameter it is termed ash.

Pyroclastic flow A dense avalanche of concentrated particles of pumice, ash and gas. The direction of a pyroclastic flow is determined by topography. They characteristically have high temperatures and velocities and result from the collapse of the eruptive column.

Pyroclastic surge A dilute turbulent cloud of particles that are suspended in hot air and gas. Unlike pyroclastic flows, low-density, highly turbulent pyroclastic surges are not dependent on ground features. They are also associated with high temperatures and velocities. They are also known as base surges and are usually associated with phreatomagmatic eruptions.

Pyroclastites Volcanic rocks formed from pyroclasts.

Pyroclasts Also known as tephra. These consist of solid volcanic material, including ash, lapilli, sand and volcanic bombs, that are ejected during a volcanic eruption.

Qualitative data Information that describes character and attributes, without emphasis on numerical measurement.

Quantitative data Information that has been numerically measured.

Sexual dimorphism Observable differences between males and females of the same species.

Skeletal age and skeletal maturation A measure of biological maturation, as compared to chronological age, and based on skeletal development. An age-at-death assessment can only produce a biological age, which may differ from the actual age the individual was when they died.

Stable population A construct to enable demographic studies to be made. A stable population is closed to inward and outward migration. Constant birth and death rates over a period of time indicate that the population will eventually converge on a stable age structure, with population size increasing or decreasing at a constant rate. In a stable population the numbers of people in each age category will increase or decrease at the same rate as the entire population. It has been suggested that rapid changes in fertility and mortality rates associated with demographic transitions appear to be a recent historical phenomenon and that pre-industrial populations can approximate stable populations.3

Stationary population A special case of a stable population. In a stationary population, birth and death rates are roughly equal and population size is neither increasing nor decreasing.4

Sulcus A groove or fissure.

Superior Above.

Supernumerary Additional or extra elements, such as teeth.

Suture The fibrous joints between cranial bones. The word is derived from the Latin word sutura or seam.

Symphysis A joint where two bones are united by fibrocartilage. This generally refers to the median joints, such as the pubic symphysis.

Synchondrosis The union of two bones by cartilage.

Syndrome A pathology, which is characterized by a suite of signs and symptoms.

Syntosis This refers to the osseus union of adjacent bones.

Systemic Conditions that affect the body as a whole.

Tendon A band of connective tissue that binds muscle to bone or other tissue.

Tephra Collective term for solid particles of silicate glass, which result from the quenching of magma. They are transported in eruption plumes in the atmosphere. The particles can range in size from microns, known as volcanic dust, to a few centimetres. This term is generally applied to pumice and lithic fragments that are ejected from an explosive eruption.

Tepidarium Warm room in a bath complex.

Thalassemia A general term applied to several pathological conditions, characterized by a deficiency in the synthesis of haemoglobin.

Thermae Roman public-bathing establishment.

Thoracic Relates to the chest. It is also used to describe the vertebrae that support the ribs in the thorax.

Tibia The larger of the lower leg bones.

Tooth cusps These are major elevations of the biting or occlusal surfaces of the premolars and molars.

Torus A bony prominence.

Trabeculae Stress-bearing structures that can be found in the spongy marrow of bones.

Transverse Crosswise.

Transverse process A process that extends laterally and dorsally from the arch of a vertebra. The term also applies to the lateral crest of a sacrum.

Trepanation (or trephination) A surgical technique that involves making an artificial hole in the cranial vault of an individual. There are various different methods, including scraping away the bone with a sharp tool or drilling a series of holes.

Trochanter The two processes that can be observed below the neck of the femur. These are the greater and lesser trochanter. An unusually prominent gluteal tuberosity on the femur shaft is generally referred to as a third trochanter.

Trochlea This term refers to pulley-shaped structures on bones, as can be observed on the humerus.

Tubercle Derived from the Latin word tuber, which means swelling or lump. Tubercle is a diminutive of this and refers to a small, usually bony, prominence. This term is also used for a nodule or small eminence on a tooth.

Tuberosity Comes from the Latin word tuberositas and means lumpy. It refers to a robust elevation or protuberance.

Tuff Interchangeable with tufa and is synonymous with ash. It is usually used to describe consolidated volcanic ash deposits. These can be compressed to form a type of stone, known as tufa.

Ulna The medial lower arm bone.

Ventral Towards the front or anterior.

Vertebra A vertebra is a bone of the spinal column.

Volcanic ash Fine volcanic material that is less than 2 mm in size.

Wormian bones Extra-sutural bones. These additional bones can be observed in the suture line between the bones of the cranium.

Zygomatic bone Cheek bone. This term is derived from the Greek word zygon, or yoke, and refers to the bone that joins the frontal, maxillary, temporal and sphenoid bones.

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