Anthropology, Archaeology

Penn Research Indentifies Bone Tumor in 120,000-Year-Old Neandertal Rib

The first known case of a bone tumor has been discovered in a Neanderthal who lived about 120,000 years ago in what is now present-day Croatia. The bone samples come from the already famous cave/archaeological site Krapina, which now hosts a Neanderthal Museum.

MicroCT scan of Krapina 120.71 showing the deterioration of the bone inside the rib neck. (Courtesy of GW Weber, U. Vienna)

Bone tumors are exceptionally rare finds in fossils and archaeological records, with the previous earliest records being approximately 4.000 years old. Even in today’s world, cases of bone tumors are relatively rare.

Using a CT scan and an X-ray, researchers identified a fibrous dysplastic neoplasm – an abnormal bone growth where normal bone is replaced with fibrous bone tissue. Today, this is the most common form of benign bone tumor in humans. The tumor was located on a Neandertal left rib fragment that measured 30 mm (4 ½ inches) long. Judging by the size and shape of the fragment, the Neanderthal was probably a young male.

Joining Penn Museum Associate Curator and Paleoanthropologist Janet Monge on the research team were Morrie Kricun, Department of Radiology, University of Pennsylvania; Jakov Radovcic and Davorka Radovcic, Croatian Natural History Museum; Alan Mann, Department of Anthropology, Princeton University, and David Frayer, Department of Anthropology, University of Kansas. The confirmation of this tumor, Monge claims, has significant implications for archaeologists, anthropologists and geneticists studying the connections between Neanderthals and humans.

“This tumor may provide another link between Neandertals and modern peoples, links currently being reinforced with genetic and archaeological evidence. Part of our ancestry is indeed with Neandertals—we grow the same way in our bones and teeth and share the same diseases.”

Full study: Fibrous Dysplasia in a 120,000+ Year Old Neandertal from Krapina, Croatia