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A month in a horse’s life: healing process of a fractured third metatarsal bone from medieval Viljandi, Estonia

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  • Eve Rannamae
  • Vladimir Andrianov
  • Eha Järv
  • Aleksandr Semjonov
  • Arvi Haak
  • Juhan Kreem


Publication details

JournalInternational Journal of Paleopathology
DateAccepted/In press - 18 Jul 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 23 Aug 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Mar 2019
Number of pages7
Pages (from-to)286-292
Early online date23/08/18
Original languageEnglish


The remains of a horse’s hind foot – a third metatarsal bone and three phalanges – were found in a presumed waste pit of a prosperous medieval household in Viljandi, Estonia, dated from the second half of the 13⁠th to the beginning of the 15⁠th century. The metatarsal bone had been broken during the horse’s lifetime and showed evidence of partial healing. Using archaeological, zooarchaeological, morphological, microscopic, densitometric and radiographic analyses, we investigated the bones and the healing process in order to understand animal treatment in a medieval urban context. Our results show that the fracture was a complete comminuted fracture that appears to have been closed and stable, caused most probably by a trauma from a strong impact. Based on callus formation and the worn edges of the separated diaphysis, the horse had survived for at least a month and used the injured foot to some extent. We suggest that the horse was treated by splinting the foot and keeping the animal in a standing position during the healing process. Eventually the horse died because of a wound infection, or was killed. The relatively long period of careful treatment indicates the animal’s economic or emotional value.

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© 2018 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.

    Research areas

  • Equus caballus, horse metatarsus, bone fracture, Middle Ages


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