With a blend of science and detective work, it’s surprising how much ancient bones can tell us about life and death in prehistoric times. Researchers working on Neanderthal remains have recently found evidence of a type of benign bone tumour which still affects humans today. Examining a large cavity in a rib fragment (at the top of the picture) revealed signs of fibrous dysplasia, a genetic disease that causes portions of bone to grow abnormally because of uncontrolled cell division. The bone shown below displays the thin bony plates, or trabeculae, that would be expected in a healthy rib; in life, the cavity in the top rib would instead have been filled with fibrous tissue. Found in a rocky shelf in Croatia, the remains are thought to be at least 120,000 years old, making this discovery the oldest trace of this type of bone tumour in the archaeological record.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
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