25 Days of Skeletal Facts: Day 9 – The Sternum

Your sternum is also called your breastbone – it’s the bone you can feel when you push on the middle of your chest – which forms the front of your rib cage. While fused together later in life, your sternum consists of three different parts, the manubrium (below in green), the body of the sternum (blue), and the xiphoid process (purple). As you can see in the image below, the clavicle (your collar bone) attaches to the top of the manubrium, and ribs 1-7 attach directly to the sternum via costal cartilage. Since it forms the anterior portion of the rib cage, the sternum’s primary function is protection of the vital organs of your thorax – heart, lungs, as well as major vessels.

Yesterday we had a delightful decision about decapitations, and today our attention turns to an ancient execution. Last year, an article in Access Archaeology detailed the discovery of an older, male individual with a near perfect hole in the sternal body (see image below) at Thasos Island in the Aegean Sea, at a site dated to the Hellenistic period of ancient Greece. The head anthropologist of the dig, Dr. Agelarakis, determined that the hole was indeed due to a penetrating injury and based on a reconstruction of the weapon, the location, angle, and depth of injury, the individual must have been immobilized or held down, most likely as part of an intentional execution. This injury would have pierced the right lung and then the heart, if deep enough (Agelarakis 2019).

Figure 17. Sternal manubrium, corpus, and xiphoid process of
Thasian male, ventral view. From Agelarakis 2019

This sternum was not the only one to reveal an incidence of violence in the archaeological record last year. Six stab marks on a sternum from medieval Sicily revealed the violent death of a middle aged (30-40 years) male most likely from close combat (Miccichè et al. 2019).

And that’s all for the sternum – stop by tomorrow as we round out out discussion of the thoracic cage with the ribs.

REFERENCES & MORE TO EXPLORE

Sternum. Shahid & Zehra. KenHub Anatomy. Last reviewed October 2020

Sternum. Teach Me Anatomy. 2020

Execution by Styrax in Ancient Thasos. Agelarakis. Access Archaeology. 2019

Ancient Greek Murder Victim Died with Weirdly Perfect Circle in Chest. Geggel. Live Science. 24 April 2019

An execution in medieval Sicily: Computerised tomography scan analysis and 3D reconstruction of an ancient forensic context. Miccichè et al. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. January 2019

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