How X-Rays Demystified a 2,500 Year Old Battle Wound


Dr. Helise Coopersmith (left), North Shore-LIJ musculoskeletal radiologist, with Anagnostis Agelarakis, professor and chair of anthropology at Adelphi University, and Argie Agelarakis, a scientific illustrator, as they examine a 2,500-year-old bone fragment.

Dr. Helise Coopersmith, a musculoskeletal and body imaging radiologist for the the North Shore-LIJ Health System, recently used her x-ray table to look at a 2,500-year-old bone and a piece of an ancient arrow. The section of the ulna bone, the inner of two forearm bones, was discovered in Northern Greece.

Most notably, there was a turquoise-colored object jutting out from the bone, and according to Agelarakis, who brought Coopersmith the bone, this was one of four sides of a bronze arrowhead. He proposed that this piece of the arrowhead was never removed by the field surgeons of the time. The team also had a scientific sketch of what the soldier’s face may have looked like around the time of his eventual death, presumably at about 58-62 years of age.

Coopersmith’s team took 3 x-rays of the ulna bone, and found that the films confirmed what Anagnostis Agelarakis had suspected. There was a barbed component to the arrowhead that could not be seen with the naked eye. The full extent of the remaining arrowhead could now be seen and was seated superficially within the bone, located only within the cortex, or outer shell. This explained why the arrowhead had not been removed.

There was a large bony spur adjacent to the arrowhead, which implies that the soldier lived for a long time after the injury because such spurs take many months to fully mature. Also, there was no bony erosion adjacent to the arrowhead, confirming that the arrowhead did not cause life-threatening infection. The team also noted that the location of the arrowhead and spur meant the injury would have made it difficult for the soldier to flex his fingers and grasp objects.

There was a story behind the objects the team was examining, the story of an ancient Greek warrior who was an injured veteran. The same x-ray technology used to diagnose conditions for patients today can answer age-old questions and help solve historical mysteries- amazing!

Read more from LiveScience.

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