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Hands are one of the most frequently used parts of the body and, as such, are historically and intrinsically linked to daily functioning and the ability to work. Thus, the bioarchaeological analysis of hand bones can prove to be a useful resource in evaluating the lived experiences of past peoples. The current study analyzes antemortem hand trauma observed in individuals exhumed from the Erie County Poorhouse Cemetery (1851-1913), located in Buffalo, New York. In doing so we investigate patterns of trauma distribution and subsequent severity of impairment of the hand. These impairments are then used as a window into the occupational realities of the institutionalized poor in an Industrial Revolution era urban setting. Of the 271 individuals with observable hand bones, 42 (15.5%) displayed trauma in the form of a bone fracture, avulsion fracture, or joint dislocation. There were 55 females and 109 males, of which 5 (9%) and 24 (22%), respectively, displayed trauma. This was a statistically significant difference in trauma occurrences (X2 (1) = 4.197, p = .040). These findings likely reflect occupational differences between men and women. When comparing hand trauma by side (e.g., left and right hand), a significant difference was found with more trauma on the right (t = -1.972; p = 0.049). Impairment scoring of the injuries revealed that individuals suffered mild impairment and subsequent disability of their hand(s). These impairments may be indicative of the hazardous, often unregulated workplace conditions of the time as well as potential instances of interpersonal violence.

Publication Date

Fall 11-15-2021




Bioarchaeology; Trauma; Disability; Hand Trauma; Anthropology

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3000 KB


Faculty Mentor: Jennifer Byrnes, Ph.D.


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Disability and Impairment of the Hand: Trauma Analysis of the Erie County Poorhouse Cemetery