In 1994, when consulted by one of us (WVDS), Dr R.W. Stoddard of the Department of Pathological Sciences of Manchester University expressed his doubts about the deformed bones being simply a case of pseudopathology. He closely examined the skeleton, measuring and weighing the bones and subjecting some of them to soft X-rays and tomographic scanning, and came to the conclusion that the asymmetry is indeed a post-mortem development, but the short forearms and lower legs are on the contrary to be classified as a pathological phenomenon (fig. 2).
Figure 2 Zweeloo Woman’s preserved skeleton (a) and skin (b). (c) and (d) show the shortened, bowed forearms and lower legs.
‘The cadaver shows shortening of the forearms and lower legs by about 50% relative to normal, and corresponding low weights of demineralised bones of these parts. Apart from a mild degree of malformation of the radii, the affected bones are short rather than distorted. There is no remaining evidence of nutritional deficit or infectious illness and no other part of the skeleton appears to be affected. The girdles, proximal portions of the limbs, hands and feet show no abnormality of size, though there is evidence of reactive change in the bones of the feet consequent upon the inevitably abnormal gait.
Several conditions can be excluded. This is not a case of hypopituitary dwarfism, since it is not a generalised failure of growth. Similarly, it is not a phocomelic type of dwarfism, since only a specific segment of each limb is involved and the skull is unaffected. The normal hands and feet argue against an effect of the ‘thalidomide-injury’ type, for example following a viral infection. An ‘anti-Marfan’ type of syndrome can also be excluded, since the equivalent segment is involved in each limb and the skull, hands and feet are spared. There is no evidence of nutritional or infectious cause and the localised nature of the abnormality argues against these. The most probable class of disorder in this case is dyschondrosteosis. This develops during later childhood and adolescence, for unknown reasons, producing the type of malformation seen here. The name is purely descriptive and may cover several syndromes. The condition is rare and the origin (or origins) appear to be genetic’ (Stoddart 1995, 9).
The diagnosis was quoted in the volume accompanying the bog body exhibition that was held in Silkeborg, Denmark, in 1996 (Van der Sanden 1996, 140-141).