Tumor Found in 120,000 Year Old Neandertal Fossil

Posted on June 6, 2013

Scientists have found evidence of a tumor in the rib bone of a 120,000 year old Neandertal. The fossil was found in a cave in Krapina, Croatia. It was not part of a complete skeletal find. The cancer is described as a fibrous dysplastic neoplasm. The scientists say the tumor predates other evidence for these kinds of tumor by well over 100,000 years. Prior to this research, the earliest known bone cancers occurred in samples approximately 1,000 to 4,000 years old. The research was published here in PLoS One.

David Frayer, professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas, who co-authored the paper, said in a statement, "It's evidence that Neandertals suffered tumors - that they were susceptible to the same kinds of diseases that we see in modern humans. Before this, the earliest tumor in bone that we've seen goes back to an Egyptian mummy. So this is 100,000 years older than the previous tumor that has been found. There is no evidence of cancer older than this in the human fossil record."

Frayer also says, "It wasn't a small tumor. It was a fairly large one, probably bulging at the base of the rib. We're not sure how far along it was, but it was well-expressed in the bone. It was in the upper third of the back, and muscles attach there that are associated with raising the arm."

More from Science Space & Robots