Humanity’s oldest tumor has been discovered, found in a bone excavated in Croatia more than 100 years ago.
Before GMOs and aspartame muddied the waters, the oldest human tumor developed in a Neanderthal, and a new report in the journal PLOS ONE explains how the discovery has shown researchers about similarities between life on Earth more than 100,000 years ago and today.
Anthropologist David Frayer of the University of Kansas explains that the tumor, known as a fibrous dysplasia tumor, is common in humans in 2013.
The non-cancerous tumors cause pain to people, and the Neanderthal who died with the tumor intact in their rib bone likely suffered pain due to the fibrous mass affecting the rib.
“They range all the way from being totally benign, where you wouldn’t recognize them, to being extremely painful … The size of this one, and the bulging of it, probably caused the individual pain.”
The oldest tumor and the bone encasing it were excavated back between 1899 and 1905, from a site known as the Krapina rock shelter. Nearly 1,000 Neanderthal bones dating back more than 100,000 years were found at the site.
Ancient abnormalities like the oldest tumor are not the first of their sort discovered by anthropologists — mummies dating back about 4,000 years were also determined to have suffered from similar bone ailments.
Janet Monge of the University of Pennsylvania Museum participated in both the current study and previous related research, and Monge explains:
“We do see [issues similar to the oldest tumor] in human patients today … It’s exactly the same kind of process and in the same place.”
Frayer explains that while the condition existed both in Neanderthals as well as modern humans, finding the oldest tumor was unlikely for a few reasons:
“People of that time didn’t live as long as they did today; plus, there weren’t very many of them compared to the Egyptians and people today … So finding evidence of tumors and evidence of cancers, is — I don’t know if I want to say ‘lucky’ — but there isn’t a lot of evidence for it.”
After the oldest tumor discovery was confirmed, Monge told LiveScience that Neanderthals “lived their lives basically the same way we did and basically with the same problems that we have.”