I have some questions about a horse skeleton that will be starring in an upcoming paper by myself and two undergraduates. The bones in question come from an approximately 2m deep pit, one of two adjacent features next to the southwestern corner of a 2nd-century AD temple from Nijmegen-Maasplein, the Netherlands. We have much of the vertebral column (C1-C3 and T12 back to the sacrum, both halves of the pelvis, some pieces of cranium including many of the upper and lower teeth, a complete left hind leg and a left forefoot. There are a number of long bones in the adjacent feature that we suspect may be from the same horse.
The individual is male, judging by the well-developed lower canines, and the estimated withers height of about 153 centimeters makes it one of the larger ones I know of from the Roman Netherlands. Based on the tooth wear, I am estimating the age at 8 to 11 years. However, I was expecting an older animal than that because the 5th and 6th lumbar vertebrae are completely fused together.
Three questions, then. First: does anybody out there know how typical fusion of lumbar vertebrae is in horses of around 10 years of age? Second: could such a pathology be produced by either riding or draught use? And finally: is it likely that such a pathology would make the horse unsuitable for further use (i.e., so that it would be put down, or in this case might be chosen for use as a sacrificial animal)?
Erik Filean, M.A.
Department of Anthropology
114 Macbride Hall
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa, USA 52242