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Archaeology & History

Cancer found in 3,200-year-old skeleton

By T.K. Randall
March 19, 2014 · Comment icon 25 comments



The remains were found along the Nile. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Jerzy Strzelecki
Archaeologists have found the clearest signs yet that cancer is not only a disease of the modern world.
The ancient skeleton dated back to around 1,200 BC and was unearthed in a tomb found in Sudan last year. When experts analyzed the bones they discovered that the remains exhibited signs of lesions and tumors indicative of cancer.

The find is important because despite the general consensus that cancer is a disease caused exclusively by modern lifestyles, it conclusively demonstrates that people from the ancient world would have also suffered from it.
"Insights gained from archaeological human remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern diseases," said research leader Michaela Binder. "Our analysis showed that the shape of the small lesions on the bones can only have been caused by a soft tissue cancer ... though the exact origin is impossible to determine through the bones alone."

It isn't clear what would have given this ancient individual the disease however possibilities include smoke inhalation from wood fires or an infectious illness spread by parasites.

Source: NBC News | Comments (25)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #16 Posted by Junior Chubb 9 years ago
There was no cancer in the past time. The article you are commenting as well as general knowledge suggests otherwise. There may be evidence to suggest factors in the modern world increase the chances of developing cancer, that is not being disputed or discussed in this thread. Knowing that cancer occurs naturally and has been with us for so long may be helpful with research to combating cancer and its causes, but it seems you would rather ignore this.
Comment icon #17 Posted by Rafterman 9 years ago
We've know that it wasn't just a modern disease for a long time, have we not? '“There is no reason to think that cancer is a new disease,” said Robert A. Weinberg, a cancer researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., and the author of the textbook “The Biology of Cancer.” “In former times, it was less common because people were struck down in midlife by other things.” ' Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/28/health/28cancer.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 Sure we have, but a visit to any of thousands of food woo and alternative health websites would lead ... [More]
Comment icon #18 Posted by Chaldera 9 years ago
All of these "cancer is solely a modern illness" claims remind me of a horror story I once read about a man who develops the ability to see a species of weird sickly humanoids that inject tumours (their egg sacs) into humans and,once they have developed sufficiently, the tumours 'hatch' and the offspring feast on their host. The guy then develops a theory that these parasites are attracted to advanced civilisations, hence why there is apparently no example of a famous cancer sufferer before the 1900s. A load of codswallop of course, but it was a decent read and would be a more entertaining the... [More]
Comment icon #19 Posted by Chaldera 9 years ago
In the same time it can also be seen in our best close friends; dogs and cats. Wild animals are rarely found to have cancer while due to the food processing the poor companions are fed with, they will almost always develop cancers in their final stages of life. I hate to argue, but the Tasmanian Devil is slowly decreasing in population size thanks in part to devil facial tumour disease, "an aggressive non-viral transmissable parasitic cancer". I felt it was a point worth making http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil_facial_tumour_disease
Comment icon #20 Posted by qxcontinuum 9 years ago
Some articles backing up my story that i quickly found; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1320507/Cancer-purely-man-say-scientists-finding-trace-disease-Egyptian-mummies.html The following article can show how the very same water we drink can be deadly causing cancer in beluga whales. http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/wildlife-cancer “We know that toxic compounds in the environment can cause cancer in humans, so it's not a far stretch to realize that pollutants can cause cancer in animals,” says Denise McAloose, a pathologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society in... [More]
Comment icon #21 Posted by qxcontinuum 9 years ago
Once again i must remind everyone that cancer is a mutation of the cells under chemical and pollutant stress factors. It is transmittable genetic because will be encoded in the dna sequence of the offsprings. These are simply medical facts. It doesn't mean there couldn't be cases of happening in the past. There was natural radioactivity in the past to, and smoke, and chemicals but not at a large scale as we experience today. As to paragraph a researcher that once said; " you are what you eat"
Comment icon #22 Posted by maximusnow 9 years ago
Thank god ..........now what?
Comment icon #23 Posted by willowdreams 9 years ago
Once again i must remind everyone that cancer is a mutation of the cells under chemical and pollutant stress factors. It is transmittable genetic because will be encoded in the dna sequence of the offsprings. These are simply medical facts. It doesn't mean there couldn't be cases of happening in the past. There was natural radioactivity in the past to, and smoke, and chemicals but not at a large scale as we experience today. As to paragraph a researcher that once said; " you are what you eat" http://cancer.about.com/od/historyofcancer/a/cancerhistory.htm
Comment icon #24 Posted by willowdreams 9 years ago
Keep in mind, not anyone here is saying that todays chemicals and diet and lazier lifestyle plus longer lifespan doesnt make cancer more of a common medical issue to have, but it does not change the fact that cancer is NOT a modern disease.
Comment icon #25 Posted by Junior Chubb 9 years ago
"you are what you eat" I grew up hearing this phrase far too often from my mum... I was alway's disappointed that my younger brother never turned into a Bourbon Biscuit.


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