International Scientific Congress in Vitoria

por | Nov 1, 2014 | English articles, Necrópolis islámica


Medieval Islamic population in Tauste brought to light.

The El Patiaz Cultural Association presented the results of the research at the congress “Demography, paleopathology and social inequality” in Vitoria.

Poster cientifico congreso Vitoria

The Islamic population that inhabited Tauste in the medieval ages had high rates of dental problems and osteoarthritis in adults over 30. Bone stress affected people differently depending on their age and professions.

These conclusions can be drawn from the anthropological analysis conducted on 44 uncovered tombs at the Muslim necropolis in Tauste.

Association of Tauste (Zaragoza) which promotes the research of the Islamic necropolis first presented its project on 6 November while participating in the International Congress “Demography, paleopathology and social inequality” held by the University of the Basque Country – EHU.

Researchers at the congress

Miriam Pina, the anthropologist who conducted the anthropological analysis of the remains and the excavation director, archaeologist Francisco Javier Gutierrez presented at the meeting the scientific poster. In it, they describe paleopathological finds uncovered during four excavation campaigns carried out in the town near Zaragoza since 2010.

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In the pictures in the middel Francisco Etxebarria, forensic anthropologist, full professor of Forensic Medicine at the University of the Basque Country and a deputy director of the Basque Insititute of Criminology, Luis Caro Dobon, professor at the University of Leon in Area of Physical Anthropology, with the President of El Patiaz, Maria Teresa Anso, anthropologist Miriam Pina, Jaime Carbonel and Francisco Castillo also representing the El Patiaz Cultural Association.

Both experts who were previously contacted during the excavations of the necropolis had a chat with the delegation of Tauste and inquired after the results obtained so far. On the right, you can see the presentation of the scientific poster of the El Patiaz Cultural Association made by Miriam Pina, the anthropologist who was in charge of the research.

The document

The document entitled “Paleopathology and stress markers of the medieval Islamic population in Tauste (Zaragoza)” lists the illnesses that people might have had according to the pathology traces found in the bones. The research also uncovered in the remains some traces of so-called stress markers that are consistent with changes in bone morphology stemming from regular and repetitive professional activities.

Identification of these markers allows us to come up with a hypothesis regarding the lifestyle, social, economic and occupational organization of the early inhabitants of Tauste. A combination of the robustness and a sign of the insertion of some ligaments and muscles on bones can be deemed as an example of such markers.

Depending on the location of these signs one can assume some muscles could have developed more due to a particular activity required by continuous use of those muscles.

Most common pathologies

Two processes identified in more than 70 per cent of the remains analysed were oral diseases and osteoarthritis. In the case of dental pathologies, people were found to have suffered from tooth decay, plaque build-up, tartar, abscesses and receding gums. One could also appreciate the fact that people were losing teeth in their lifetime which was followed by the alveolar ridge resportion.

Such pathologies are clearly related to the lifestyle people would lead in those times plus the insufficient oral hygiene that, in turn, caused teeth to wear down not only by chewing but also through the occasional use of teeth as tools.

The second most frequently identified process is osteoarthritis which was found in people over 30. These signs are usually found in the spine where one can appreciate a lot of osteophytes (benign bone neoformations) on lumbar vertebrae. Osteoarthritis is also found on hip and hand joints. Although these cases are registered only in older adults all these signs correspond to the indicators of intense and long-lasting physical activity.

Besides, two other interesting individual pathologies were identified. On one hand, a tibia-fibula united-fracture was found in a male aged between 35 and 45. One can see that post-fracture callous had shortened the bone causing a limp that, in turn, can be appreciated in the spine that shows clear lumbar wear down.

But, without a doubt, the most significant paleopathological finding at the necropolis in Tauste has been the trepanation in a 45-year-old male. It must have been conducted using the hole-drilling procedure, possibly for surgical reasons. The regeneration of the cortical bone and rounded edges of the hole shows that the patient survived the intervention.

Markers of bone stress and stress fractures

Another goal of the study on the Islamic population in Tauste has been to identify markers of bone stress and stress fractures to specify people’s professional activities.

The toughest body parts are found among males with clear signs of ensethopathies on hands and arms. On one hand, one can appreciate hypertrophy of phalanges, a condition commonly associated with holding tools; on the other, notable biceps, triceps, supinator and pronator muscles insertions.

These markers indicate elbow flexion and extension, hand and forearm raising and joint protection against a load of heavy objects.

As for lower limbs, the most significant markers can be found on the femur, patella, and tibias, parts of the body that are commonly involved in leg extension, abduction and rotation, when squatting and during frequent walks.

The results indicate a distinct sex-differentiation of the activity implied: there is a higher frequency of developing a stronger upper limb in males as compared to females. The highest number of cases is found in forearm supination.

An important number of cases (almost half of them, 46 per cent) are associated with intense use of quadriceps and less so with squatting.

As for females, they seem to have a high number of enthesopathy markers in phalanges (it is found in 40 per cent of analysed bodies), which, in turn, would indicate repetitive hand flexions. A possible reading of this finding can be that the sexual division of labour existed in those days.

Women barely show signs of movement which implies they walked less than men and were more involved in manual labour jobs.

Men seem to have had more workload as far as physical activity is concerned, they had to walk long distances and carry heavy loads, apart from performing intense and long-lasting arm extensions and flexions.

One of the ways to discover what professional activities of the population were, would be to know their diet and food preferences. This is what the ongoing research on the paleo diet means to uncover.

Using the information about their diet, we could deduce what kinds of activities people had to perform to get access to the food in question: agriculture, farming. Analysing this data with the previously studied stress markers we could know how their work process was organised.

The research on the paleo diet could also provide some important nutritional information since the traces of hypoplastic bands were found on tooth enamel of several bodies. Those can be associated with unbalanced biological development that is probably due to the lack of necessary nutritional factors.

The conference

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A moment at the discussion panel. On the left, is the chairperson of the discussion panel Lourdes Herrasti (Arazandi Sciences Society). Next to her, Armando Gonzalez Martin (Autonomous University of Madrid); Nick Passalacqua (JPAC Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, USA); Olalla Lopez Costas (University of Reading, England) and Luis Caro Dobon (University of Leon).

On the next, anthropologist Miriam Pina and Doctor Michelle Alexander of the University of York (UK) got interested in the research on the paleo diet since the studies she conducts also go in that direction. The project dossier was handed over in case this University got interested in researching the necropolis in Tauste.

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Maria Teresa Anso chatting with an anthropologist Maria Paz de Miguel Ibañez who conducted the research on the Islamic necropolis at Plaza de Castillo in Pamplona and who also participated in the excavations in Tauste.

Next, archaeologist and PhD in History at the University of the Basque Country Jesus Lorenzo, speaker at the conference on the history of Tauste in 2013. The Association keeps cordial and fluent communication with him. Jesus wanted to accompany us that day.

Islamic necropolis in Tauste

The El Patiaz Cultural Association of Tauste within our promotional and research campaign on the historical and cultural heritage started the archaeological project in 2010. It changed the historic understanding of the Muslim presence in the area, which until then was considered incidental and insignificant.

The discovery of the Islamic necropolis that extends over a 2-hectare area shows the presence of a steady and settled population inhabiting the place. Archaeologist Francisco Javier Gutierrez, excavation director, estimates that this necropolis might have around 4,500 tombs. Besides, the fact that it consists of two levels implies that it occupied an extended territory and remained there for long.

Since 2010 four archaeologic campaigns have been conducted. They were sponsored by the El Patiaz Cultural Association. During these campaigns, the remains of 44 bodies were uncovered and  sent for a further basic anthropological analysis.

The research project on the Islamic necropolis in Tauste currently includes a study on the paleo diet, and it is planned to carry out more DNA studies and a new carbon-14 analysis to complement the existing ones that date the necropolis between the 8th and 11th centuries, which, in turn, makes it the most ancient in Spain documented to date along with the one in Pamplona.

For further information you can use these telephone numbers:

FRANCISCO GUTIERREZ (Archaeologist): 690901119

MIRIAM PINA (Press and anthropologist): 636827926


You can read about islamic cementery excavation of Tauste here

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The translation of this page is included in the Zaragoza Provincial Council Grants for the Dissemination and Revitalisation of Cultural Heritage in the year 2022.

La traducción de está página esta incluida dentro de las Ayudas de la Diputación Provincial de Zaragoza para la Difusión y Dinamización del Patrimonio Cultural en el año 2022.