Researchers have just discovered the world´s oldest tumor, in the rib of a 120,000 year old Neanderthal in Croatia.

It is a very rare discovery considering that tumors were uncommon in prehistoric populations. Tumors in fleshy tissue decay quickly – making them difficult to identify.

Spelling: both “Neandertals” and “Neandertals” are correct.

The bone was originally excavated a hundred years ago and scientists have just found out that the it has a cavity, where a tumor, known as fibrous dysplasia, replaced what should have been inner bone structure.

Fibrous dysplasia is not considered to be cancerous, because the tumors do not spread to other tissues.

According to David Frayer, professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas, and co-author of the paper:

“It’s evidence that Neanderthals 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.”

The 30-millimeter-long left rib fragment was unearthed between 1899 and 1905 in a Croatian cave that contained around 900 Neanderthal bones – hundreds of thousands of years old.

Back in the 1980s, all the bones from the cave were x-rayed and published in a book which showed each radiogram, with the exception of the rig fragment – which appeared burned out in the x-ray image.

Finally, using new high quality X-rays, researchers have been able to look at the bone more clearly.

They found that the rib contained a cavity 18 millimeters in length and 7.6 millimeters wide. After thorough analysis with radiograph and CT scans, the scientists concluded that the cavity was the site of a benign tumor associated with Fibrous dysplasia, which “is a developmental disorder of bone in which lesions develop fibrous tissue and spicules of woven bone.”

Frayer said:

“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.”

Frayer also mentioned that there may have been other bones involved, but they have not been identified. Adding that, although the site contained more than 900 bones “very few of them are associated one with the other. And while there are other pathologies, none of the others show evidence of a tumor.”

Neanderthaler Fund

Neanderthals are more similar to modern day humans than previously thought.

Scientists were once sure that Neanderthals had no influence on the evolutionary line of modern day humans., However, although Neanderthals died out 30,000 years ago and were a different species of human compared to modern day homo sapiens, we share much of the same DNA.

Frayer concluded:

“We have actual nuclear DNA from a number of different Neanderthals – not complete sequences – but segments of nuclear DNA. So we know that Neanderthals have a set of unique genes that were passed on to modern humans. It’s about 4 percent of our genetic makeup.”

By analyzing DNA extracted from three Neanderthal bones over 40,000 years old, European and the US researchers revealed that some Neanderthal DNA were passed on to humans.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist