Serpens endocrania symmetrica (SES): A new term and a possible clue for identifying intrathoracic disease in skeletal populations

Israel Hershkovitz*, Charles M. Greenwald, Bruce Latimer, Lyman M. Jellema, Susanne Wish-Baratz, Vered Eshed, Olivier Dutour, Bruce M. Rothschild

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper describes a phenomenon in the endocranial plate, which we have termed "serpens endocrania symmetrica" (SES), and discusses its value as a diagnostic tool. The affected discolored bone area exhibits disruption of the endocranial surface, lending it a maze-like appearance. Histological sections demonstrate that the process is limited to the most superficial portion of the endocranium, with no diploic and ectocranial involvement (sinus areas excepted). Adult skulls (n = 1,884) from the Hamann-Todd collection (HTH), housed at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, were utilized for the present study. SES was recognized in 32 of the 1,884 skulls studied (1.7%). The frequency of SES among individuals reported to have died from tuberculosis (TB) was 4.4%. The rate of SES in the non-TB sample was only 0.53%. The locations were as follows: limited to sinus area, 28.1%; calvarium (excluding the sinuses), 46.9%; sinus + calvarium, 25.0%. SES was bilateral in 90.9% of cases. Twenty-five of the 32 individuals (78.1%) with SES in the HTH collection had tuberculosis specifically listed as the cause of death. Six of the other 7 individuals had infections other than TB. In 29 of the 32 individuals with SES, infection involved structures within the thorax. As SES was also associated with another osteological phenomenon known to represent pulmonary disease, i.e., hypertrophic osteoarthropathy (HOA; 68.0% of SES individuals also had HOA), SES may be of diagnostic value in paleopathology for the recognition of intrathoracic disease, and perhaps tuberculosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-216
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002


  • Endocranial changes
  • Hypertrophic osteoarthropathy
  • Skeletal population
  • Tuberculosis


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