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Pieter B.





Joined: 16 Feb 2014
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PostPosted: Thu 25 Jun, 2015 3:30 pm    Post subject: Cracking skulls: Small overview of medieval cranial wounds.         Reply with quote

Skeletons don't make very good conversational partners, but they can shed a light on the life and death of the person it belonged to. In this thread I will try to pair info from a few research papers on medieval mass graves with a few examples of corresponding primary sources from my limited knowledge. The primary goal of this thread is to establish if and why skull trauma is so often seen in skeletons recovered from mass graves which ultimately (if we get that far) might turn into a question of medieval helmet usage.

Richard III
Henry V
Harold Godwinson
James IV of Scotland
Charles the Bold
Henry Hotspur
Jan Zizka

The above list of names will probably be familiar with those of you who like me have an interest in medieval history. What some observant (and people who read other threads in which I post) might notice is that all those people listed did at one point in their lives receive a (mortal)wound to their skull. In some cases it was an arrow and in other cases a sharp weapon. An obvious thing to notice is that all those people had the means to obtain a good quality helmet, so why then did they get wounded? At this point I cannot say that but I am curious as to what you might think. I have not yet had (or made) the time to read an extensive selection of primary sources, but in the ones I did read I came across descriptions of battles in which it seems injuries to the skull were 'relatively' common.

The following two examples show that head injuries were by no means exclusive to the rich and powerful Wink
It should be noted that I read both these sources as describing man-at-arms/knights who like the named few in the list above could have had the latest and best quality helmets.

The Battle of Fornovo 1495

-Alessandro Beneditti, The Battle of Fornovo (1495) Beneditti was a physician working for the Venetian forces and started his diary in May 1495, and a month later, was an eyewitness to this battle.

Quote:
“During this confusion Rodolfo Gonzaga, who had fought a memorable battle in the midst of the enemy lines, opened his helmet, was seriously wounded on the face, and straightway fell. “


Quote:
These lay in a noble death before my eyes, and there was no blood, for the rain had bathed their gaping wounds. All lay prone, just as they had fought, body to body, and most of the wounds were in their throats, since they had contended more eagerly than carefully in the enemy’s midst and almost no one knew for which of the zealous warriors the battle was going well.


Quote:
“The river Taro carried very many corpses to the Po; the rest, more than twenty-five hundred, unburied and swollen by the heat of the sun and the rain, were left to wild beasts. Almost all of these had a piercing wound in the throat or on the face, but a few had been lacerated by artillery.”


Quote:
“A great many French fell and perished at the first onrush, for they carry shorter javelins(lances), wherefore they felt the first blows; however, the French seemed better suited to the sword, for as it is shorter, it is on that account considered better. “


Grunwald

-This account of the battle was written sixty years afterwards, by Jan Dlugosz, who served as the secretary to the Bishop of Cracow.

Quote:
“Then knight attacked knight, armor crushed under the pressure of armor, and swords hit faces. And when the ranks dosed, it was impossible to tell the coward from the brave, the bold from the slow, because all of them were pressed together, as if in some tangle. They changed places or advanced only when the victor took the place of the defeated by throwing down or killing the enemy. When at last they broke the spears, all the units and armor clung together so tightly that, pushed by the horses and crowded, they fought only with swords and axes slightly, extended on their handles, and they made a noise in that fighting that only the blows of hammers can raise in a forge. And among the knights fighting hand to hand only with swords, one could observe examples of great courage.”


Quote:
“He struck the German on the side and knocked him from his horse to the ground. With his spear, King Wladyslaw struck the knight, who lay on his back on the ground in convulsions, hitting him in the forehead, which was bare as his visor had opened, but left him intact. But the knights keeping guard over the king killed him immediately, “



I do not know whether the wounds in these two battles were noted because the author felt it needed to be said or because the author saw/reported something extraordinary. However the wounds described here do seem to partially correspond with wound patterns from medieval mass graves.

The articles which I read both refer back to- and compare their results with the skeletal analysis from the Townton and Wisby mass graves.

The first article is an examination of skeletons from the mass grave related to the battle of Uppsala (1520). It is not strictly medieval but wound pattern seems to be similar to those of medieval battles she writer cites.

http://www.academia.edu/6865242/A_Sixteenth-C...ood_Friday

The second article is a more extensive examination of skulls and femurs from the battle of Dornach (1499). Just as in the other research the results are compared to other wounded analysis.

*It's in German and my German is not all that good so please do correct me if I made a mistake in translating certain bits.

http://ubm.opus.hbz-nrw.de/volltexte/2011/2419/pdf/doc.pdf

The weak point in both these analysis's is inherent to skeletal analysis, namely that skeletons do not easily show from which social background he came and as what type of soldier he served (Men-at-arms or foot soldier). Another thing skeletons do not always show is damage to soft tissue. While the spine and rib cage might show signs of wounds inflicted in the chest region the abdominal region is almost entire composed of soft tissue which does not show up when doing this kind of research. I do not want to go ahead of myself and draw wrong conclusions but perhaps the low number (or total lack) of rib cage injuries indicate the torso in it's entirety was not wounded that often.

Starting with the paper on Uppsala

Quote:
In Uppsala 60% of the total number of crania exhibit at least one blade wound.


Quote:
Since the postcranial bones are commingled, it is difficultto estimate the frequency of wounds per individual. However, the 11 postcranial wounds could, at most, have affected 18% of the 60 individuals.The uneven distribution of blade wounds between the skulls and the rest of the remains are most likely not arbitrary, and poor preservation cannot be the sole explanation.


Quote:
In Towton, only 33% of the individuals showed signs of perimortem trauma below the skull, while 96% of the crania exhibited weapon-related lesions
As in Uppsala, the total lack of ribs showing signs of blade wounds was noted in the Towton remains. (Novak, 2000)


She then goes on to state that in another Danish battle the ratio of cranial to postcranial differs but that 90% of the crania still exhibited wounds. Wisby appears to be the odd one out but I've seen some people claim 40% of the wounds were on the crania with the lower legs being wounded more often while others state 45% of the wounds were located on the skull with lower legs being only slightly lower.

The rest of the conclusion is also quite interesting and I recommend you read it.

One last thing she author notes was that around 60% of the wounds on the skull were likely to be lethal since they went through the skull and caused brain damage. Next to that it was noted that in some mass graves high numbers of people showed healed cranial wounds (Towton around 32%).

I recently came across this newspaper article which reported similar healing of cranial injury in Early medieval Italy, sadly I could find no research paper on it and it seems they only investigated the leprous warrior. It would be great if someone else could point us to earlier medieval mass graves showing similar (or opposite) wound patterns.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/articl...rgery.html

https://bonesdontlie.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/the-cemetery-of-the-barbarian-warriors/


For those interested in a smaller English mass grave from 613: http://www.yorkosteoarch.co.uk/pdf/1404.pdf

Quote:
Skeleton 1 had battle injuries, which were well-healed and had been inflicted some time before death. Skeleton
1 had also suffered from a probable defence injury to the right thumb and a stab wound through the abdomen.
Both individuals also suffered from several peri-mortem (at death) blade injuries, which were concentrated on
the skull and were fatal. The skeletal evidence suggests that these men had died in battle and were probably
buried soon after death in a mass grave together with other battle victims.




The second research was way more extensive in examining cranial injury and yielded surprisingly similar results to the Uppsala paper.

Quote:
Die 417 perimortalen Verletzungen betreffen 102 von 106 Schädeln (96,2%), wobei die betroffenen Schädel zwischen einer und 14 perimortale Verletzungen aufweisen


The 417 perimortal wounds affect 102 out of 106 crania (96,2%), the affected skulls show between one and 14 perimortal wounds.

Of the 417 perimortal wounds on the skull 315 were cuts, 69 thrusts, 28 blunt trauma and five shot/bullet wounds.

A clear distinction between cutting wounds of swords and halberds could not be made.

Interestingly enough 40% of the cutting injuries did not penetrate the skull which corresponds almost entirely with the 60% penetration of cuts on the skull found in the Swedish paper.

The relative number of skull wounds of Towton and Dornach are nearly identical (96,4% to 96,2%)

When looking only at cuts the number of head wounds in Dornach is higher than both Towton and Uppsala (87,7 to 64,3 and 59,6 respectively)

26 skulls (24,5%) showed 38 healed and healing wounds with different phases in healing. We can't be 100% sure but this could indicate at least a quarter of the sample were veterans.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

From my limited reading of these papers and the examples found in literature I believe its fair to say that the head former a prime target for medieval combatants. Based on these results I am left with a few questions.


1: Were these men wearing helmets at all?

1a: If not then why? Could it have something to do with fatigue, heat or simple cost?
1b: If head wounds killed people as often as these numbers indicate then why didn't people wear them?

Presuming they did wear helmets at the time of their death

2: Why were the helmets so little use?
3: How is the relative absence of thrusting and stabbing explained? The battle of Dornach was a clash of pike armed soldiers if the artwork is to be believed, yet pike wounds to the face don't seem to be all that common.

I believe I had more questions than these but they have slipped my mind, if the numbers above or these questions raise questions of your own feel free to post them. If you have more data on medieval soldiers I would like to hear it too. Perhaps cross referencing the wound distribution with those of battles from earlier times or even in far flung places such as the Middle East and Asia could help explain some things.

Yours truly,
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Thu 25 Jun, 2015 7:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Some random thoughts that only minutely relevant, but fun to observe...

1) Helms are one of the easiest pieces of armor to take on or take off - intentional or otherwise in my experience
2) Open face gives better breathing and vision
3) Visor gets tipped up for breathing and vision from time to time, intentionally
4) Visor gets tipped up from time to time because its there and easier to open than some of the other armor parts
5) Heads are fun to hit and often tend to be a fairly stable target, after hands I always found heads to be the easiest thing to hit

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
-John F. Kennedy
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Thu 25 Jun, 2015 7:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe Fults wrote:
Some random thoughts that only minutely relevant, but fun to observe...

1) Helms are one of the easiest pieces of armor to take on or take off - intentional or otherwise in my experience
2) Open face gives better breathing and vision
3) Visor gets tipped up for breathing and vision from time to time, intentionally
4) Visor gets tipped up from time to time because its there and easier to open than some of the other armor parts
5) Heads are fun to hit and often tend to be a fairly stable target, after hands I always found heads to be the easiest thing to hit

1) True, and thank god for that, helmets are also one of the most uncomfortable and breathing restricting things to wear.
2) Attacking the front of face is one of quickest and easiest to kill or blind someone and even if you are using non lethal weapons, easiest to kill (neck breakage from wind slash, bone fragments, etc.
3)Agreed, helmets are fun to hit, even if hitting a helmet with a blade is often a futile exercise and yes, because you can't really block the entire head, say, with a shield, without running the risk of blinding yourself.
4) We can see in various artworks were often lifted and close faced helms lifted off becuase those thinks can slightically impared the ability to see and or breather effective, thus respond to attacks in many directions, something that happens quite a bit in melees effectively. Sword would probably see the most used in a melee becuase melees are very chaotic and swords were used and otimized to be used as a secondary weapon, when shit has truly hit the fan, so to speak. Thus , the ones the least skilled in melee fighting would proibably have a high probably of eating a sword thrust or getting face hacked.
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Vasilly T





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 12:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

May I also add that perimortem wound doesn't necessarily mean it was inflicted during battle? Those might have been warriors that got disabled during battle by either getting unconscious or any other means we can't confirm, since, as was mentioned there's no data on the soft tissue damage they might have received.

I'm suggesting that they might've been killed after the battle was over, they were found lying disabled or unconscious and those perimortem wounds were inflicted in the form of coup de grace, thus the absence of helmets, since they were removed to deliver the final blow.
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John Hardy




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 3:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Three other points worth considering:

1. A postmortem analysis of wounds involves an analysis only of the blows that the user's armour, skill and luck failed to stop. It tells us nothing at all about all the ones that were deflected -- or what the ratio was of "saves" to "goals"...

2. By the very nature of the target, a solid head hit is far more likely to result in a Dead Right There than a slash or stab landing almost anywhere else. The guys who died a day later from infection or blood loss were presumably buried somewhere else.

3. As mentioned above, the large number of dead with cut throats in the one battle almost certainly reflected the work of the Coustilliers, finishing off any temporarily-downed soldiers by knifing them while they were down.
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Vasilly T





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 8:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So in the end, the only solid conclusion we can make is that they were killed Big Grin
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Mart Shearer




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 8:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Like Thomas Becket.
ferrum ferro acuitur et homo exacuit faciem amici sui
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John Hardy




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 8:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vasilly T wrote:
So in the end, the only solid conclusion we can make is that they were killed Big Grin


Well, there is absolutely no question at least that as of this moment they are really, truly, positively dead... Big Grin
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 10:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for all the replies people Cool

Joe,

You say helmets are the easiest to take off intentionally or otherwise. Could you elaborate a little on that? Those straps on a sallet tend to look quite solid on modern reproductions.

In regards to breathing and visibility, I've looked at a few period sources such as artwork and such and many depict infantry as having a sallet with visor and a mail collar as opposed to a solid bevor. Such a setup would not hamper breathing to any degree would it?

Phillip,

Phillip you state swords could very well be used but would something like a bill or a halberd not be equally or even more effective? As the research stated they could not distinguish halberd wounds from sword wounds. Frankly the lack of puncturing wounds from things such as pikes leads me to think those two pike blocks meeting each other quickly disintegrated into the vicious bad war that we see in some period art.

Perhaps Benjamin Abbot could provide us with a source on pike warfare which suggested pike fencing as opposed to dropping pikes or the other way around.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Battle_Scene%2C_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger.jpg

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ac/Battle_Scene%2C_after_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger.jpg

Vasilly,

Perimortem wounds could indeed have been blows on captured prisoners or already wounded opponents. However the sources on the battle of Dornach doesn't report any kind of executing of prisoners in a systematic battle and the wound pattern of multiple blows to the head doesn't seem to suggest a clean kill or a coup de grace. 66% of the skulls showed three or more perimortem wounds.

Besides it appears around 1/4th of the skulls examined show signs of healing/healed skull wounds. I think it's a bit far fetched that these wounds were also sustained when someone tried to mercy kill them after taking their helm off.


John Hardy,

Your point one and two are certainly valid.

The bones don't show where armor did work, at least not directly we're might just be able to deduce how well it did work. As for wounds such as slashes and such. While they may have killed a soldier I do not think it was a really significant park. If someone got their artery sliced open then there is a large chance the person would've died right there and then with the others. Blood loss after the battle is certainly lethal though.

By comparison infection seems to be relatively rare, as stated above nearly 1/4th of the skulls showed healed wounds and none of them showed any signs of infection. It's a small sample (26) but I believe the low infection rate seems to correspond to other finds. Part of the soldiers fighting at Dornach would've been landsknecht who had access to medical personal.

I am not really sure what you mean with your third point. Fornovo took place in 1495 by which time it seems Coustilliers were gone. Even when they were around I do not see why they specifically took out downed men. All evidence seem to point to them being there as mounted protection for mounted archers and later switching to a more cavalry like role.
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 11:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
Thanks for all the replies people Cool

Joe,

You say helmets are the easiest to take off intentionally or otherwise. Could you elaborate a little on that? Those straps on a sallet tend to look quite solid on modern reproductions.

In regards to breathing and visibility, I've looked at a few period sources such as artwork and such and many depict infantry as having a sallet with visor and a mail collar as opposed to a solid bevor. Such a setup would not hamper breathing to any degree would it?

Phillip,

Phillip you state swords could very well be used but would something like a bill or a halberd not be equally or even more effective? As the research stated they could not distinguish halberd wounds from sword wounds. Frankly the lack of puncturing wounds from things such as pikes leads me to think those two pike blocks meeting each other quickly disintegrated into the vicious bad war that we see in some period art.

Perhaps Benjamin Abbot could provide us with a source on pike warfare which suggested pike fencing as opposed to dropping pikes or the other way around.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Battle_Scene%2C_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger.jpg

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ac/Battle_Scene%2C_after_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger.jpg

Vasilly,

Perimortem wounds could indeed have been blows on captured prisoners or already wounded opponents. However the sources on the battle of Dornach doesn't report any kind of executing of prisoners in a systematic battle and the wound pattern of multiple blows to the head doesn't seem to suggest a clean kill or a coup de grace. 66% of the skulls showed three or more perimortem wounds.

Besides it appears around 1/4th of the skulls examined show signs of healing/healed skull wounds. I think it's a bit far fetched that these wounds were also sustained when someone tried to mercy kill them after taking their helm off.


John Hardy,

Your point one and two are certainly valid.

The bones don't show where armor did work, at least not directly we're might just be able to deduce how well it did work. As for wounds such as slashes and such. While they may have killed a soldier I do not think it was a really significant park. If someone got their artery sliced open then there is a large chance the person would've died right there and then with the others. Blood loss after the battle is certainly lethal though.

By comparison infection seems to be relatively rare, as stated above nearly 1/4th of the skulls showed healed wounds and none of them showed any signs of infection. It's a small sample (26) but I believe the low infection rate seems to correspond to other finds. Part of the soldiers fighting at Dornach would've been landsknecht who had access to medical personal.

I am not really sure what you mean with your third point. Fornovo took place in 1495 by which time it seems Coustilliers were gone. Even when they were around I do not see why they specifically took out downed men. All evidence seem to point to them being there as mounted protection for mounted archers and later switching to a more cavalry like role.

Of course it halberds and such could account for these wounds, I was just trying to explain the high number of sword wounds to the head and face despite helmets. With halberds and bills, I bet even if you were you to hit someone were the top of the helmet would be, even more so if you have gotten a chance to execute swing over a enemy preoccupied by a teammate, the force of a swing could kill by shock induced fracturing or dent induced damaged even if you down manage to cutting into the helmet and into the person's skull.
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Vasilly T





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 1:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
Thanks for all the replies people Cool
Vasilly,

Perimortem wounds could indeed have been blows on captured prisoners or already wounded opponents. However the sources on the battle of Dornach doesn't report any kind of executing of prisoners in a systematic battle and the wound pattern of multiple blows to the head doesn't seem to suggest a clean kill or a coup de grace. 66% of the skulls showed three or more perimortem wounds.

Besides it appears around 1/4th of the skulls examined show signs of healing/healed skull wounds. I think it's a bit far fetched that these wounds were also sustained when someone tried to mercy kill them after taking their helm off.

The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence, so if there's no report on executing of prisoners, that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Besides if it wasn't an execution of prisoners, but mere finishing off the wounded, then it wouldn't have to be reported.

And coup de grace doesn't have to be a clean kill, we're talking about Middle ages here, not some Hollywood movie with single finishing blow cliche we're so used to. Humans can be quite hard to kill, so coup de grace could have a form of several hard blows delivered to the head.

But your last point about healed wounds is probably the most valid against my point. But lets give those cases a closer look first. Because for example I remember a similar case from the article "Head Protection in England before the First World", with a healed wound caused by an arrow in a mandible area, which is easily explainable by the absence of bevor, which I believe wasn't really uncommon for footsoldiers. What about the cases we have here?
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Raman A




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 1:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have a lot of questions about the paper on Dornach. Unfortunately I can't read German. I tried to google translate it but google is telling me it's too large a .pdf.

1. There were 315 cutting wounds on 102 skulls. How were these distributed? You state that there were as many as 14 wounds per skull. Were the 315 cutting wounds concentrated on a small number of skulls or evenly distributed across all 102? In other words, the average cutting wounds per skull was about 3, but I want to know what the standard deviation was.

2. Only 189 of the cuts penetrated the skull. How were these distributed? Were they on the same skulls which suffered non-penetrating cutting wounds, or were the skulls with non-penetrating cutting wounds different from those that suffered penetrating ones?

3. "26 skulls (24,5%) showed 38 healed and healing wounds with different phases in healing." I'd like more information on this. The battle lasted several hours. A wound sustained at the start would have started to heal by the end. How old are the wounds in this category? Hours? Weeks? Years?

4. You use the term "cranium", which anatomically encompasses all of the bones of the head, except the lower jaw. Is this the intention of the terminology (Schädeln) used in the paper? If so, what's the distribution of wounds across the skull? Were they on the top of the head or lower, towards the cheeks and jaw? Many infantry helmets only provided protection for the top of the head, down to the temples. Wounds to the lower part of the skull would therefore not be inconsistent with helmet use.



I'd also like to point out that the battle began with an ambush by the Swiss forces against the HRE forces, which were bathing in the river Birs. I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that the men bathing would not have been wearing helmets.
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 1:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vasilly T wrote:
Pieter B. wrote:
Thanks for all the replies people Cool
Vasilly,

Perimortem wounds could indeed have been blows on captured prisoners or already wounded opponents. However the sources on the battle of Dornach doesn't report any kind of executing of prisoners in a systematic battle and the wound pattern of multiple blows to the head doesn't seem to suggest a clean kill or a coup de grace. 66% of the skulls showed three or more perimortem wounds.

Besides it appears around 1/4th of the skulls examined show signs of healing/healed skull wounds. I think it's a bit far fetched that these wounds were also sustained when someone tried to mercy kill them after taking their helm off.

The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence, so if there's no report on executing of prisoners, that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Besides if it wasn't an execution of prisoners, but mere finishing off the wounded, then it wouldn't have to be reported.

And coup de grace doesn't have to be a clean kill, we're talking about Middle ages here, not some Hollywood movie with single finishing blow cliche we're so used to. Humans can be quite hard to kill, so coup de grace could have a form of several hard blows delivered to the head.

But your last point about healed wounds is probably the most valid against my point. But lets give those cases a closer look first. Because for example I remember a similar case from the article "Head Protection in England before the First World", with a healed wound caused by an arrow in a mandible area, which is easily explainable by the absence of bevor, which I believe wasn't really uncommon for footsoldiers. What about the cases we have here?


Well the most striking case displayed in the Towton mass grave was this one. It is indeed his mandible which was hit and it's quite likely that it wouldn't have been protected if the man in question was not wearing full armor.



A man (believed to be Knight) found in Stirling castle had a scar across his forehead which had healed.



The skulls from the German report of Dornach:

Only 30 of the 38 wounds recorded on skulls can be said to be the result of weapon violence with certainty.
Three of those wounds could be the result of a pike/spear, the rest were cleaving/cutting wounds. The average length of these cuts is 33 mm and consistent with the perimortal non penetrating blows recorded on the skulls.

These 30 wounds affect 33 bones of the skull with all but three wounds affecting only one skull bone, the wounds are more or less equally spread out across the left and right with a slight majority on the left.

Apart from the frontal bone:


Parietal bone:


and Occipital bone:


No other bone was wounded.

The left parietal bone is the most commonly affected by injury followed by the right parietal bone. No exact numbers are given by the author though.

page 118 - seite 105 has a few pictures of the healed wounds.

http://ubm.opus.hbz-nrw.de/volltexte/2011/2419/pdf/doc.pdf
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 2:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Raman A wrote:
I have a lot of questions about the paper on Dornach. Unfortunately I can't read German. I tried to google translate it but google is telling me it's too large a .pdf.

1. There were 315 cutting wounds on 102 skulls. How were these distributed? You state that there were as many as 14 wounds per skull. Were the 315 cutting wounds concentrated on a small number of skulls or evenly distributed across all 102? In other words, the average cutting wounds per skull was about 3, but I want to know what the standard deviation was.

2. Only 189 of the cuts penetrated the skull. How were these distributed? Were they on the same skulls which suffered non-penetrating cutting wounds, or were the skulls with non-penetrating cutting wounds different from those that suffered penetrating ones?

3. "26 skulls (24,5%) showed 38 healed and healing wounds with different phases in healing." I'd like more information on this. The battle lasted several hours. A wound sustained at the start would have started to heal by the end. How old are the wounds in this category? Hours? Weeks? Years?

4. You use the term "cranium", which anatomically encompasses all of the bones of the head, except the lower jaw. Is this the intention of the terminology (Schädeln) used in the paper? If so, what's the distribution of wounds across the skull? Were they on the top of the head or lower, towards the cheeks and jaw? Many infantry helmets only provided protection for the top of the head, down to the temples. Wounds to the lower part of the skull would therefore not be inconsistent with helmet use.



I'd also like to point out that the battle began with an ambush by the Swiss forces against the HRE forces, which were bathing in the river Birs. I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that the men bathing would not have been wearing helmets.


Bathing without armor, Are you raving mad? I don't enter the shower with at least my brigandine Wink

1. Table 25 on seite 85 - page 98 shows the distribution of wounds which can be read without German knowledge.

84% of the skulls were affected by 1 to 6 blows so it's rather nicely distributed. Only 12,2% of the skulls were affected by 7 or more wounds and 3.8% of the skulls had 0 head wounds. the total of those percentages should add up to 100

2. The penetrating hits were on the same skulls as the non penetrative ones. They're all dead but around 40% of the cuts they suffered were likely to be non-lethal (at least that's how I read it).

Tab 28 seite 91 page 104 shows the distribution. The lower three are stabbing wounds, blunt trauma and shot wounds.

146 left
121 right
48 center or both sides

3. The author states different phases of healing which suggest some are older than others. No further information is given but perhaps some insight can be gleaned from the pictures of the healed/healing wounds.

4. I just posted a little about the healed wounds in my previous thread, it appears they are where a helmet 'should' be.

seite 91 page 104 also shows distribution across bones in the bottom tab 29 and the next page has more on it.

The most hit bone was the Parietal bone followed by the frontal bone followed by the Occipital bone.

The least hit was the Sphenoid bone followed by the facial bones(all combined) followed by the temporal bone.
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Raman A




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 4:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ok, so all of the wounds on the skulls in the Dornach study were to the top of the skull? That's extremely interesting. You're right, that's exactly where the helmet should protect. It's also interesting that each person took repeated blows to the head before they succumbed. I can imagine two scenarios: The first, they are in fact wearing a helmet, but after repeated blows from a powerful weapon like a halberd it eventually gives in and their skull is penetrated. I'm not sure about this one. Williams' figures indicate that even a particularly powerful blow from a halberd (200 J) shouldn't be able to cleave all the way through even a poor quality iron helmet, unless it had some incredible amount of slag or was less than 2mm thick.

The second scenario is that they are not wearing a helmet and their skull alone (or perhaps with a hat) is able to resist a few blows from a sword before it is penetrated. This sounds perfectly reasonable to me. The human skull is fairly tough and it can be demonstrated that it can withstand weak or glancing sword blows. A thick hat would protect it further. Fiori instructs to aim for the cheeks, jaw, and neck-- not the top of the skull. The problem with this scenario is now the question of why they weren't wearing a helmet. All of the muster requirements from around the period that I've read indicate that a helmet was a requirement. So if they weren't wearing a helmet, where was it? The traditional explanation I've read for the Towton injuries is that the fleeing soldiers discarded part or all of their armor to try to expedite their egress. The Swabian forces did flee Dornach in such a hurry that they left all of their artillery and most of their money. I'm not completely convinced on that theory but I thought it was worth mentioning.



This is an image of aftermath of the Battle of Schwaderloh, but it's from the same war as Dornach. Shows a lot of dead figures with head injuries. The figure in the foreground with a helmet apparently died of a neck wound.

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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 4:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Raman A wrote:
Ok, so all of the wounds on the skulls in the Dornach study were to the top of the skull? That's extremely interesting. You're right, that's exactly where the helmet should protect. It's also interesting that each person took repeated blows to the head before they succumbed. I can imagine two scenarios: The first, they are in fact wearing a helmet, but after repeated blows from a powerful weapon like a halberd it eventually gives in and their skull is penetrated. I'm not sure about this one. Williams' figures indicate that even a particularly powerful blow from a halberd (200 J) shouldn't be able to cleave all the way through even a poor quality iron helmet, unless it had some incredible amount of slag or was less than 2mm thick.

The second scenario is that they are not wearing a helmet and their skull alone (or perhaps with a hat) is able to resist a few blows from a sword before it is penetrated. This sounds perfectly reasonable to me. The human skull is fairly tough and it can be demonstrated that it can withstand weak or glancing sword blows. A thick hat would protect it further. Fiori instructs to aim for the cheeks, jaw, and neck-- not the top of the skull. The problem with this scenario is now the question of why they weren't wearing a helmet. All of the muster requirements from around the period that I've read indicate that a helmet was a requirement. So if they weren't wearing a helmet, where was it? The traditional explanation I've read for the Towton injuries is that the fleeing soldiers discarded part or all of their armor to try to expedite their egress. The Swabian forces did flee Dornach in such a hurry that they left all of their artillery and most of their money. I'm not completely convinced on that theory but I thought it was worth mentioning.



This is an image of aftermath of the Battle of Schwaderloh, but it's from the same war as Dornach. Shows a lot of dead figures with head injuries. The figure in the foreground with a helmet apparently died of a neck wound.



I read the Towton explanation too but since I have never worn an accurate medieval helmet reproduction I don't know if its that sensible to take off your helmet when fleeing. Besides that 32% of the skulls found in the Towton grave showed healed head injuries, would that suggest about a third of them fled before and were hit in the head during their attempt at fleeing but managed to avoid being killed after being hit in the head once? I find it rather hard to believe that is the case.
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 7:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:
Thanks for all the replies people Cool

Joe,

You say helmets are the easiest to take off intentionally or otherwise. Could you elaborate a little on that? Those straps on a sallet tend to look quite solid on modern reproductions.

In regards to breathing and visibility, I've looked at a few period sources such as artwork and such and many depict infantry as having a sallet with visor and a mail collar as opposed to a solid bevor. Such a setup would not hamper breathing to any degree would it?


They just are. When I've had full plate kit I found helmet easiest to put on without an assist. That and gauntlets. I always hated doing the arms. Pain in the rear. Legs and body not that big a deal. That's just me but I've had not so great kit. I've also had some pretty darn good kit. Same either way. So initially, if you're hot, tired or whatever, I figure you take off the helmet and or the gloves. Those are easy. That's what I always did first (and last). The rest involve more work.

As for the unintentional bit, I'm speculating. Can't say I've ever ripped somebody's sallet off. Can't say I've tried. That's just plain unfriendly and probably sure to make your drill into something more intense. Never the less there are edges and grip points on helmet and I'm sure if you can get hold you're either pulling it off or seriously throwing the other guy off balance. At least. Body tends to follow its head. I've also played a few years of contact sports long, long ago and I ripped hats off then. First play first scrimmage in high school I threw a guy using his helmet. He hit me late. I reacted and was pleasantly surprised at how easily I could use that helmet to put him exactly where I wanted him (on his rump). When you want to start a scrum in the middle of the field or just want to make a point, grab a face-mask and pull the head. Body goes with it and you will find yourself in a very advantageous position. Receiving end is much less fun. Football helmets also have very good straps and suspensions. Very modern. Very researched. Very tested. They will let loose so necks don't get broken but helmets are fundamentally designed to stay on. Watch some games, they do end up coming off.

Is it really relevant to this discussion? Don't know. Just know I'd sure try to take a guys helmet off before I tried to control an opponent with his leg armor.

Visors in my limited experience are surprisingly bad for field of vision. Perhaps you get used to them but I never really did. In addition, in my limited experience, after a point (a gasping for air point), they *seemed* to get in the way of my breathing. Again, maybe you get used to it. I never really did.

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John Hardy




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 9:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's also possible that the cases with dead with multiple skull injuries and/or old healed skull wounds demonstrate how their protective headgear had mitigated the severity of wounds.

The discussion somewhat reminds me of the reaction of the British General Staff after the introduction of the "tin hat" to replace the cloth field service cap in mid-WW1. The generals were horrified that the number of head injury cases in hospital increased. Fortunately, before they reacted by withdrawing the helmets, a mathematician explained to them that what was happening was that soldiers previously killed on the spot (and then just listed as "dead" without the location of the wound specified) were surviving long enough to reach hospital thanks to the mitigating effect of their helmets...
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Vasilly T





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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 10:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:

Well the most striking case displayed in the Towton mass grave was this one. It is indeed his mandible which was hit and it's quite likely that it wouldn't have been protected if the man in question was not wearing full armor.

A man (believed to be Knight) found in Stirling castle had a scar across his forehead which had healed.

The skulls from the German report of Dornach:

Only 30 of the 38 wounds recorded on skulls can be said to be the result of weapon violence with certainty.
Three of those wounds could be the result of a pike/spear, the rest were cleaving/cutting wounds. The average length of these cuts is 33 mm and consistent with the perimortal non penetrating blows recorded on the skulls.

These 30 wounds affect 33 bones of the skull with all but three wounds affecting only one skull bone, the wounds are more or less equally spread out across the left and right with a slight majority on the left.

No other bone was wounded.

The left parietal bone is the most commonly affected by injury followed by the right parietal bone. No exact numbers are given by the author though.

page 118 - seite 105 has a few pictures of the healed wounds.

Well then I have to admit that I don't have much arguments left in defence of my point, except that those healed wounds might have been the result of a brawl in a civil background, rather than military, thus the absence of any kind of headgear, but that would be kind of a long shot. Better to stick with the version that the warriors of the time had a tendency either not to wear helmets or to remove them under certain circumstances during battle.

Or maybe we shouldn't yet put away the possibility of cleaving through a helmet with a sword, we do have some sources to confirm that Big Grin :

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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Fri 26 Jun, 2015 10:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Something to consider other than the receipt of the head wounds under consideration here as ocuring during mobile combat, is the possibility that the victims were "finished off" while incapacitated. Where numerous accounts of sharp skull punctures, and multiple punctures on the same skulls are described in a battlefield grave site, I tend to suspect that the soldiers were executed in a fairly easy manner with club blows to the head. I thought one of the above illustrations shows peasants bashing fallen soldiers. I am not sure where I read the account of the town militia being trained to use staves and pikes for the battle of the golden spurs, but seemed to recall that the high death rate there was actually due to boys and towns people restraining and finishing off the fallen soldiers. In tournament era the kippers were only supposed to knock opponents unconscious, but the name "kipper" is telling...
Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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