“Those in Peril on the Sea”

Trauma in two eighteenth-to early nineteenth-century British Royal Navy skeletal assemblages

Authored by: Ceridwen Boston

The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  December  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415842198
eBook ISBN: 9781315883366
Adobe ISBN: 9781134677979


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Sailing a fighting ship in the British Royal Navy (RN) of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was a highly dangerous occupation, with falls, crush injuries and interpersonal violence being ever-present realities. Handling the sails at all times of day and night, in all weathers, and engaging the enemy, inevitably led to a wide range offractures, muscle tears and weapon-related trauma. It should thus come as no surprise that osteological analysis of skeletal assemblages from the burial grounds of the Royal Hospital Greenwich, southeast London (1747–1857), and Haslar, Gosport, near Portsmouth (1753–1824), England, has revealed very high rates of trauma and different fracture patterning to non-naval assemblages. This chapter examines some of the osteological evidence for trauma in these two late Georgian assemblages, interpreting it in the light of abundant historical data for the period.

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