Many cancers in modern humans are caused by exposure to toxins, pollution, radiation and unhealthy diets over a long period of time. Thus, it’s remarkably rare to find evidence of cancer in prehistoric populations in the human evolutionary line: Our ancient ancestors experienced relatively short lives in a pristine environment. Also, tumours in fleshy tissue decay and generally aren’t fossilized, so they’re difficult for archaeologists to find.
The large lesion is located above the tubercular facet and extends laterally. The trabeculae have been destroyed and the cortex appears expansive. The thin cortical bone forming the superior surface of the cavern was broken away postmortem. (b) Krapina 120.6 shows the normal pattern of bony trabeculae in the medullary space. The surface irregularities are post-mortem. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0064539.g001
That’s what’s extraordinary about the news that a team of researchers has identified evidence of fibrous dysplasia, or bone cancer, in the rib of a 120,000-year-old Neanderthal from Krapina, Croatia. The findings are included in the forthcoming edition of PLoS ONE.