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


Department of Archaeology, Institute of History and Archaeology, University of Tartu, Jakobi 2, 51005, Tartu, Estonia; BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, Environment Building, Wentworth Way, YO10 5DD, York, United Kingdom. Electronic address: [Email]


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.


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