3,200-year-old skeleton found with cancer

Mar 17, 2014
An aerial view shows the Nile river cutting through the Sudanese capital Khartoum on January 13, 2011

Archaeologists have found the 3,200-year-old skeleton of a man with a spreading form of cancer, the oldest example so far of a disease often associated with modern lifestyles, scientists said Monday.

The remains of a man believed to be aged between 25 and 35 were found last year in a tomb in Sudan on the banks of the River Nile by a student at Durham University in northeast England.

The bones showed evidence of metastatic carcinoma, or a malignant soft-tumour which has spread from the original site to other parts of the body, although it was not possible to say if he died from the disease.

"This may help us to understand the almost unknown history of the disease. We have very few examples pre the first millennium AD," said Michaela Binder, the researcher who found the .

Small lesions on the bones could only have been caused by a although the exact site where the disease originated was impossible to determine, she said.

The cause could have been environmental, for example from carcinogens from wood fire smoke, genetic or from the parasite schistosomiasis, which still causes bladder and to this day in the area.

The research team from Durham University and the British Museum said that although cancer is currently one of the world's leading causes of death, it had until now been almost absent from archaeological finds.

Worldwide, there had only been one convincing example of predating the 1st millennium BC in , and two tentative examples.

This had led to the conclusion among scientists that it is "mainly a product of modern living and increased longevity," they added.

"Insights gained from archaeological human remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern diseases."

The skeleton was found in Amara West, 750 kilometres (466 miles) downstream from the Sudanese capital Khartoum.

The man was buried on his back in a painted wooden coffin with a glazed amulet.

Explore further: Who owns the bones? Should bodies in museum exhibits be returned home?

More information: On the antiquity of cancer: evidence for metastatic carcinoma in a young man from Ancient Nubia (c. 1200BC), Binder et al, published in PLOS ONE (17 March 2014) dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0090924

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ChuckG
3.8 / 5 (5) Mar 17, 2014
Given that cancer is now #3 on the list of common killers, this doesn't do much to refute the idea that it's the result of immersing ourselves in a chemical soup of toxics of our own making.
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (9) Mar 17, 2014
The reason it's such a common killer is (mostly) something else. You must remember that death rate is always 100%. If you eradicate a disease that means that all other ways to die will become more prevalent (even though they have become no more dangerous).

Cancer risk is something that increases the longer you live. Increase the lifespan of a population (by finding cures for other stuff) and you increase the cancer risk. It's that simple.
Vviper
not rated yet Mar 18, 2014
Clearly, this person had too much B.C. Fried chicken