In 1989, French researchers found the skeleton of a 5 to 7 year-old child buried together with dozens of other bodies near Abbey of Saint-Jean-des-Vignes in France. It wasn’t until recently that they analyzed the skull of the child and confirmed that the child had Down syndrome.
With the recent discovery, the child, who lived in medieval France about 1,500 years ago, is now the earliest known case of Down syndrome based on archaeological records.
The new case study was published in the International Journal of Pathology. According to reports from ABC News, the skeleton had a broad skull and thin skull bones, which are characteristics of Down syndrome.
Researchers studied the skeleton and took a CT scan to find out more about the child’s internal features. They also found out that the child had dental and sinus abnormalities. Although these abnormalities are not characteristically associated with Down syndrome, they may also be an indication of the condition when combined with the skull’s characteristics.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder with associated characteristic facial features. Those who have Down syndrome also have delayed physical growth and moderate intellectual disabilities. It is said that the average IQ of an adult with the disability is 50, which is the IQ of an 8-year-old.
Aside from their discovery of the child’s Down syndrome, the archeologists also studied the way the remains were buried in order to determine how the child was treated in life.
The skeleton was placed face-up in the burial site, just like the other skeletons nearby. The position of the head was pointing west, and the feet were pointing east. The child’s hands were placed under the pelvis. With these findings, the archeologists ruled that the child was treated no differently from the other people buried in the cemetery, according to Mashable.
Lead author Maite Rivollat said that there was no stigma towards the child during life.
“This Down syndrome child was not treated different at death than others in the community. We interpret this as a meaning that the child was maybe not stigmatized during life, the first time a Down syndrome individual has been so viewed in the context of the ancient community.”
Though the new findings state that the child’s skeleton is the earliest physical evidence of Down syndrome, there are artifacts from Mesoamercia that Down syndrome has been present before the child’s time. The artifacts, which were made around 1500 B.C., depict Down syndrome through figurines.
[Image via Mashable]