Pop Culture Osteology: Once Upon a Time #3

If you read this blog for the osteology and are largely unaware of the plot of the hit ABC show Once Upon a Time, allow me to concisely catch you up to speed:

A 28-year old New York bail bondswoman named Emma Swan opens her door one night to find her eleven year old son Henry, who she had given up for adoption more than a decade ago, standing on her mat. Henry explains that she must return with him to the town of Storybrooke, Maine, whose residents are all fairy-tale characters who were transplanted to the mundane American Northeast some twenty-eight years ago. These ‘characters’ have been frozen in time ever since, as the result of a terrible curse cast by the evil queen, Regina, who is also Henry’s adoptive mother. Over the course of the first two seasons, we discover that because of the chronological suspension wrought by the curse, Emma’s parents from the Enchanted Forest are actually her own age – in their late twenties. Also, Henry’s grandmother, Snow White, is his adoptive mother Regina’s step-daughter, and Rumplestiltskin, Henry’s grandfather on the other side, had a brief affair with his adoptive mother’s mother Cora (Henry’s great-grandmother), several decades ago, and so for all we know Henry’s  biological father and his adoptive mother may be step-siblings.*

Nope, I can’t do this concisely. I give up. All you need to know is that the Once genealogy is basically a kinship diagram designed by M.C. Escher.

In addition to stretching the boundaries of the definition of ‘blood relatives’, the Once screenwriters and prop masters also like to dabble in osteology every now and again. Though I watch this show largely to relieve dissertation data-collection related anxiety, I find myself hard-pressed to ignore the stalwart efforts of the Once team to incorporate human and animal remains into their sets and plot lines. While the show’s dialogue is often ludicrous:

No one steals from a dwarf.“No one steals from a dwarf!”

Lessons on self-acceptance from Ruby“You’re Frankenstein, and I’m the werewolf. I…ate…my boyfriend.”

and its convoluted plots always seem to rely heavily on theoretical principles pilfered from quantum mechanics (Can you really be someone’s step-mother and the adoptive parent of their grandchild simultaneously?), I have developed an inordinate fondness for this show.

Which brings me to the next episode of “Pop Culture Osteology”, as Season 2, Episode 13 introduces not only evidence of birds the size of pterosaurs, but also a heretofore undocumented pathological condition of human skeletal remains.

Pursuant to knocking out the giant (see previous post for backstory), Hook and Emma steal into his castle to search for the magical compass that will guide them back to Storybrooke. While combing through the castle’s vast heaps of treasure, they stumble upon a skeleton. But not just any skeleton – as you can see by the blade clasped in their hand, this individual was known as “Jack the Giant Killer”.

Later in the season we learn that “Jack” is actually short for Jacquelyn, which does not explain the spelling of the name inscribed on the blade below, nor the right-angled mandible in the screenshot above, since 90˚ angles are more characteristic of male mandibles, while females tend to have more obtuse gonial angles. However, sex estimation using the skull is a somewhat qualitative process, a methodological pitfall that the Once screenwriters are correct to call attention to.

That’s not what bothers me about this skeleton, however. First off, if you examine the screenshot above, this individual shows costal cartilage that appears fully calcified, despite the fact that ossification of the costal cartilage is uncommon in individuals of less than 30 years of age, suggesting the involvment of “infections, mineral metabolism, thyroid disease, chronic renal failure” or genetic factors – poor Jacqueline!

I also find the state of Jack’s right elbow particularly troubling:OuchAs you can see the proximal ulna and radius are fused to the distal humerus. It would appear that Jack suffered from some terrible form of osseous ankylosis. Ankylosis is a condition that occurs when the inflammation at a joint surface is so severe that the bones involved fuse together, prohibiting movement, as in the case of the manual phalanges shown below:

Ankylosis of the manual phalanges

While this could be a case of radioulnar synostosis (a fanciful term for fusion of the heads of the forearm bones near the elbow joint), I believe it would be rare for the distal humerus to become involved as well – typically this form of synostosis seems to affect only the proximal radius and ulna, as in the x-ray below. However, perhaps because Jacqueline spent so much of her time wielding a sword and slaying giants she developed a pronounced case of atlatl elbow, one so severe that it led to synostosis. As a caveat, I’m not a paleopathologist, so I don’t know if it is possible for the etiology of that particular ailment to follow such a path (paleopathologists, feel free to chime in here…).

Radioulnar synostosis

What is even more astounding is that despite these numerous and severe skeletal pathologies, Jacqueline demonstrated no apparent discomfort or abnormal patterns of movement during her life. Here, you can see here happily swilling beer with a pint-sized giant only a few hours before her death, with her elbows fully flexed:

While just a few hours later, we see her at the prince’s side, elbows extended. No evidence of discomfort whatsoever.

Perhaps the magical atmosphere of the Enchanted Forest is able to heal not only heartache, but also severe cases of of radioulnar synostosis. Or wait, maybe I’m thinking of “True Love’s Kiss”, a panacea that gets used to cure everything from sleeping curses to impending oblivion.

Whatever the reason, they should definitely write this up as a case-study for the International Journal of Paleopathology.

* I also find it perplexing that Lana Parilla plays the stepmother of Ginnifer Goodwin’s character, since during flashbacks it is implied that Regina is at least 15 years older than Snow White, when in actuality the actresses are only a year apart in age.

Image Credits:
Photo of pensive Ruby and Dr. Whale found here, photo of an irate Grumpy found here. First photo of Jacqueline the giant killer found here,  second photo taken from here. Photo of ankylosis of hand phalanges pilfered from Powered by Osteons, here, though for some reason I have a sense that the photo was probably originally derived from the University of Bradford. Radioulnar synostosis x-ray taken from radiopaedia.org, here.

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3 Responses to Pop Culture Osteology: Once Upon a Time #3

  1. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #3 | Doug's Archaeology

  2. Pingback: Pop Culture Osteology: The Blacklist | Bone Broke

  3. Pingback: Bone Broke Year in Review | Bone Broke

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