- by Efthymia Nikita, David Mattingly and Marta Mirazón Lahr
“The present paper compares different statistical tests on presence/absence (dichotomous) data for degenerative joint disease (DJD) and degenerative disc disease (DDD) from Late Holocene North African populations. The aim is to assess the most efficient statistical model for such analyses. Our results suggest that generalized linear models (GLM) give practically identical results to the conventional Chi-square tests, Fisher’s Exact tests and Cochran–Mantel–Haenszel partial correlations. Moreover, GLM allow for the examination of the impact of several predictors on the outcome variable, namely age, sex, population and body mass, as well as the interaction of these predictors on DJD/DDD expression. GLM additionally offer insights as to whether each factor correlates positively or negatively with the outcome variable and permit the modeling of the experimental data. As a result, we argue that GLM should be preferentially used in place of conventional tests. Moreover, both binary and linear GLM give convergant results despite the outcome variable DJD/DDD being dichotomous. Therefore, considering that the binary models occasionally present computational problems and the simplicity of the linear models, the linear form may be preferred” (read more/open access).
Ankylosing spondylitis in the wrists, forearms, and spinal column
Note the fused wrist bones in the arms, and the abnormal protuberances, fusions, and cavities in the spine.
Ankylosing spondylitis (also known as Bechterew’s disease) is an inflammatory spondyloarthropathy (arthritis affecting the spinal column), and its name comes from the Greek “ankylos-”, meaning “crooked”. Spondylitis can be broken down into “spondyl-” and “-itis”, which mean “spine” and “inflammation”, respectively.
Simply put, it’s a fusion of the joints in the axial skeleton (the spinal column, ribcage, and cervical collar), but there’s little else that’s simple about this condition. While it’s known to have a strong genetic predisposition and heritability, the exact triggers that begin the process of syndesmophytosis (literally "the process of abnormal binding together") which fuse bones together is not known.
While many of the genetic and immune factors in AS similar to those in rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylopathy has been differentiated from other RA conditions as early as the second century CE, by Galen. Because of its effect on the spinal column, AS has long been known as "bamboo spine".
Unfortunately, despite many treatments and therapies being available to counteract the effects of this autoimmune condition on the bones and organs, there is no cure.
Observations on the hip joint: to which are added … other similar complaints. Edward Ford, 1810.
How Studying Mummies Could Cure Modern Diseases
By comparing diseases from then and now, researchers can learn how they spread. Maybe they can learn how to stop them, too.
Earlier this year, scientists published a study of whole-body CT scans of 137 mummies: ancient Egyptians and Peruvians, ancestral Puebloans of southwest America, and Unangan hunter-gatherers of the Aleutian Islands. They reported signs of atherosclerosis—a dangerous artery hardening that can lead to heart attacks or stroke—in 34 percent of them. What struck the research team, led by Randall Thompson of Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, was that it afflicted mummies from every group. Frank Rühli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich, also sees the condition in about 30 to 50 percent of the adult specimens he studies. The breadth of these findings suggests that atherosclerosis today may have less to do with modern excesses such as overeating and more with underlying genetic factors that seem present in a certain percentage of humans living almost anywhere in the world. Someday, identifying those genes could lead to new drugs for heart disease.
Ancient mummies can provide a wealth of information about the health of early civilizations, which may help us better treat diseases today. But because mummies are both rare and delicate, researchers have been limited in what they could do to them—and therefore what they could learn from them. Recent improvements of two medical tools—DNA sequencing, which can reveal microbial infections, and CT scanning—are letting paleopathologists diagnose mummies’ causes of death in detail. They’re now finding signs of everything from prostate cancer to malaria in mummies across the globe. By comparing the ancient forms of those diseases with their contemporary equivalents, researchers can learn how those diseases evolved, what makes them so harmful, and—possibly—how to stop them.
In the case of tuberculosis (TB), which kills upwards of 1.4 million people a year, researchers are using DNA sequencing and CT scans in mummies to understand what conditions TB thrives in and how to treat it. Work from Haagen Klaus, a biological anthropologist at George Mason University, suggests that, contrary to what some experts think, Europeans might have brought a particularly deadly form of TB to the Americas. His preliminary DNA data hints that Peruvian remains dating back to the 10th century—before Spanish explorers arrived—might have been infected with a more benign strain of the TB bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, or a different species altogether, Mycobacterium kansasii. And many studies have shown that the bodies of Central Americans from before and after European contact rarely, if ever, show signs of TB symptoms. Klaus subscribes to the hypothesis that this may be because M. tuberculosis thrives in the presence of iron, and these people ate a low-iron diet with little meat. If true, this insight could point to new drugs that would inhibit M. tuberculosis from taking up iron.
Other scientists are using DNA sequencing to investigate Chagas disease, an illness caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which can cause fatal heart failure or swelling of digestive system organs. The parasite infects roughly 10 million people, mostly in Latin America, and appears to be spreading. Some think that different strains of the parasite affect different organs. So in 2008, when Ana Carolina Vicente and Ana Jansen of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro reported their discovery of T. cruzi in the enlarged colon of a 560-year-old mummified body from Brazil, they might have come upon an important clue. Previously, they found T. cruzi in a sample of bone remains from 4,500 to 7,000 years ago. Comparing the DNA of different samples of the parasite could reveal more about its evolution and spread, and perhaps influence treatment someday.
Paleopathologists are also taking advantage of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which detects signals from water. Dry mummies haven’t been perfect for this technique, but recent improvements in MRI might make for better images of soft tissues, such as tongues. Plus, unlike the radiation from CT scanning, MRI has no possible risk of damaging DNA evidence.
Looking for clues to to modern-day leprosy, scientists dig up a 500-year-old mass grave and scan for ancient strains of bacteria in human remains. They find that the bacteria that cause leprosy haven’t changed, humans have.
The genetic code of leprosy-causing bacteria from 1,000-year-old skeletons has been laid bare.
Similarities between these old strains of the bug and those prevalent today have given scientists unique insights into the spread of the disease.
It has revealed, for example, the key role played…
Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) in pre-Columbian North America: Evidence from the eastern Tennessee River Valley
“Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH or Forestier’s disease) is a pathological condition of unknown etiology characterized by the exuberant antero-lateral flowing (‘dripping candle wax’) ossification of the anterior spinal ligaments. Clinical data indicate it is a progressive male-predilected pathology manifested in middle age, which steeply rises in prevalence after aged 60. It has become paleopathologically relevant because it has been clinically associated with an affluent lifestyle. Archeological examination of the prevalence of DISH is often undertaken on European samples and frequently in monastic contexts. There are no prevalence data for pre-Columbian samples from North America. The present study establishes baseline information from four prehistoric Late Mississippian period (AD 1300–1600) samples (N = 389) from the upper Tennessee River Valley. Two probable cases and one possible case of DISH (all male) are identified, reflecting less than one percent of the adult sample, and 1.2 percent (2/172) of males. The low prevalence compared to European monastic samples and non-New World cemetery contexts suggests socioeconomic or interpopulational genetic differences that may be tested with subsistence and community health-status controlled osteoarchaeological comparisons within and outside of North America” (read more/open access).
***For the palaeopath people.
(Open access source: International Journal of Paleopathology 3(1):11-18, 2013)
The skull of Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici (1596-1666), showing hypoplasia of the right-side mandibular body.
He also suffered from a lot of other peculiar medical condition, and he’d survived TBC, as well.
One Accident Too Many? [PDF]
Margaret A. Judd
How did he die? This is a frequent question asked of bioarchaeologists when examining skeletal remains and in most cases the answer eludes us. Perhaps a more plausible question would be ‘how did he live?’ but even then there are limitations to the interpretation of trauma and disease in ancient skeletal remains, particularly episodes of trauma. Healed traumatic lesions, in addition to dental disease and osteoarthritis, are the most frequently observed pathological lesions in ancient skeletal remains, both human and animal. Most individuals who suffered from injury exhibit one or two lesions (frac- ture, dislocation, or muscle pull), but occasionally an individual is excavated whose skeletal remains are riddled with trauma, which offers an intriguing case study.
Skeleton showing the effects of leprosy, Netherlands [?], 1250-1500: The right and left feet show the devastating effects of leprosy on the bones of the body. This erosion and damage, caused by the decay of protective fatty tissue, does not occur in all cases. These feet are believed to be from an adult female buried in a leprosy cemetery attached to a leper hospital.
New Open Access Issue of Dental Anthropology Journal
Palaeopathology, the study of ancient diseases in human or animal remains usually means analysis of the skeletal material to examine the diseases effect on the bone. However, palaeopathology is not a straightforward science with many diseases not even appearing on the bone, and when they do, they present very similar manifestations but with very different causes.
Periostitis, for example, is a non-specific infection of the bone that causes extra bony growth in long small layers across the bone. It can appear from any number of infections or diseases, and therefore is not indicative of a single cause. In order to diagnose pathology in bones, it takes a careful inspection of all the possible pathological signs and careful analysis of all the potential diseases within the historical context.
In most cases we are left not with a single correct diagnosis, but with a differential diagnosis of the most likely pathology and others that are also possible. Here are two case studies in paleopathology: ovarian teratoma, and osteogenesis imperfecta.
Fragment of human skull pierced by bronze arrowhead, China, Han Dynasty, 206 BCE-220 CE
“Ancient evidence of violent death? A bronze arrowhead is embedded in this skull dating back 2000 years. It is unknown whether this was caused by accident or warfare, but the Han Dynasty in China, where this fragment originated, was a time of great political unrest. Professional opinion is divided as to whether death was instantaneous. The man may have lived for at least two weeks after the incident because there is evidence of new bone growth. This can only have occurred while he was alive. The green staining around the arrowhead is thought to be evidence of pus from infection. Infection rather than the arrowhead may have been the cause of this person’s death.”
(Text and image source: The Science Museum, London)
Skull with hydrocephalus- fluid build up in the brain in Romania.
Where were these specimen in Romania?