Arthropathy – or joint disease – is the most common post-cranial pathological change found in skeletal remains, both today and in the past. Responsible for a great amount of pain and discomfort in modern populations, arthropathy continues to be highly researched in current clinical and paleopathological studies. Despite its frequency in an archaeological context, differentiation between various types of arthropathy can prove challenging. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), for example, is historically underrepresented in the archaeological record. This may be due to a combination of the poor preservation of hand and foot bones (the locale where the bony alterations of RA begin), the non-specific appearance of RA lesions on bones, as well as other biases inherent in the bioarcheological record. This article analyzes the origins and antiquity of RA, as well as some of the issues with differential diagnosis using clinical and paleopathological literature, including probable and potential cases.
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