Probable Atretic Cephalocele in an Adult Female from Punta Secca (Sicily, Italy)

  • R.J.A Wilson

International Journal of Osteoarchaeology

John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Excavations at Punta Secca, Sicily (Italy), in 2008 uncovered a substantially built tomb of ca ad 625/630 inside a private house and accompanying evidence for libations and funerary feasting in honour of the deceased. Inside the tomb were the skeletal remains of an adult female aged approximately 20/25 years and a child aged approximately 3/5 years. DNA analysis showed the child to be female and the adult and child to have been consanguineous. Archaeological and epigraphic evidence demonstrates that they were Christians. The cranium of the adult female showed an enlargement of the central portion of the occipital bone and a circular depression that terminated in a bifurcated foramen (diameter 3.25 mm). The former is likely an instance of occipital bunning; the latter is the first attested example of atretic cephalocele from an archaeological context. Tombs do not normally occur in ancient houses, and the hypothesis is advanced that the individual may have suffered from medical side effects, such as seizures, which caused rejection of the adult female by the local Christian community but veneration of her by her family as a holy woman.