I’ve been reading a lot of research on the bioarchaeology of violence of late, thought-provoking pieces by Haagen Klaus, Deb Martin and Gwen Robbins Schug that detail the ways in which the ideology of oppression is mediated by violence. In theory, this leaves me spending a lot of time thinking about how structural violence has molded human social interactions since complex, multi-tiered societies first arose. In practice, this means I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in cafés and poking parts of my skull while furrowing my brow, palpating the paths of blunt and sharp force trauma described in text.
This past weekend, in the midst of my phrenological investigations, I ran across an unfamiliar anatomical term. In their 2012 paper examining violence at Harappa, Schug et al., described the pattern of trauma presented by individual II.S.5:
“This individual also demonstrates destructive, remodeling lesions from an extensive infection affecting the frontal, parietals and the occipital bones. Circular, crater-shaped lesions are most severe near the left coronal suture. In addition to these healed fractures in the splanchnocranium, II.S.5 has vertical fractures in the right and left central and lateral incisors and canines” (142).
Reading this, I realized that I had no idea what to palpate, because I didn’t know what a splanchnocranium was. At first blush it sounds like the name of a heavy metal band from the 1970s.
While I maintain that this is a missed musical opportunity ripe for exploitation, what splanchnocranium actually refers to is the facial skeleton. Phylogenetically speaking, the splanchnocranium reflects our evolutionary history since it represents the part of the skull that develops from the pharyngeal arches (the structures that go on to become gills in fish).
In practical osteological terms this means the splanchnocranium, or viscerocranium, includes all of the bones of the face (generally including mandible, maxilla, malars, and the finicky fragile little bones of the face like the nasals, vomer, lacrims, conchae, etc.,):
There appears to be some debate about which bones are considered part of the facial skeleton – sometimes the sphenoid and ethmoid are included, and sometimes they’re considered part of the neurocranium. If you’re looking for explict evo-devo links, this website from the University of the Cumberlands provides a detailed run down of which arches become which bones. And there you have it – the splanchnocranium!
Schug, G.R., K. Gray, V. Mushrif-Tripathy, and A.R. Sankhyan (2012). A Peaceful Realm? Trauma and Social Differentiation at Harappa International Journal of Paleopathology, 2 (2-3), 136-147
Image Credits: Spinal tap photo found here. Blue and red cranium found here. Original separated skull photo found at studydroid, here.