Fossils Diseases

The ancestors of modern bacteria were unicellular microorganisms that were the first forms of life to appear on Earth, about 4 billion years ago. For about 3 billion years, all organisms were microscopic, and bacteria and archaea were the dominant forms of life. Although bacterial fossils exist, such as stromatolites, their lack of distinctive morphology prevents them from being used to examine the history of bacterial evolution, or to date the time of origin of a particular bacterial species. However, gene sequences can be used to reconstruct the bacterial phylogeny, and these studies indicate that bacteria diverged first from the archaeal/eukaryotic lineage. Read more ...

Paleopathology, also spelled paleopathology, is the study of ancient diseases. It is useful in understanding the history of diseases, and uses this understanding to predict its course in the future. Read more ...

Prehistoric medicine is any use of medicine from before the invention of writing. Because the timing of the invention of writing varies per culture and region, the term "prehistoric medicine" encompasses a wide range of time periods and dates. The study of prehistoric medicine relies heavily on artifacts and human remains, and on anthropology. Previously uncontacted peoples and certain indigenous peoples who live in a traditional way have been the subject of anthropological studies in order to gain insight into both contemporary and ancient practices. Read more ...

In the News ...

Oldest UK case of rickets in Neolithic Tiree skeleton   BBC - September 10, 2015

The earliest known case of rickets in the UK has been identified in a 5,000-year-old skeleton found in Scotland. The disease, caused by Vitamin D deficiency linked to lack of sunlight, can lead to weak and deformed bones. It was identified in the remains of a Neolithic woman who had been buried on the Scottish island of Tiree.

Scientists find 240 million-year-old parasite that infected mammals' ancestor   PhysOrg - December 1, 2014

An egg much smaller than a common grain of sand and found in a tiny piece of fossilized dung has helped scientists identify a pinworm that lived 240 million years ago. It is believed to be the most ancient pinworm yet found in the fossil record. The discovery confirms that herbivorous cynodonts - the ancestors of mammals - were infected with the parasitic nematodes. It also makes it even more likely that herbivorous dinosaurs carried pinworms.

Discovery of a primordial cancer in a primitive animal   PhysOrg - June 24, 2014

Cancer is as old as multi-cellular life on earth and will probably never be completely eradicated. The causes of tumors are the so-called cancer genes. Data predicted that the first multi-cellular animals already had most of the genes which can cause cancer in humans.

Ancient Parasite Uncovered in Mesopotamian Tomb   Live Science - June 19, 2014

Some of the earliest evidence of a human parasite infection has been unearthed in an ancient burial site in Syria. The egg of a parasite that still infects people today was found in the burial plot of a child who lived 6,200 years ago in an ancient farming community. "We found the earliest evidence for a parasite [that causes] Schistosomiasis in humans," said study co-author Dr. Piers Mitchell, a biological anthropologist at the University of Cambridge in England. The oldest Schistosoma egg found previously, in Egyptian mummies, was dated to 5,200 years ago.

Researchers find 19 million-year-old genomic fossils of hepatitis B-like viruses in songbirds   PhysOrg - September 28, 2010
They've been sitting there for at least 19 million years, far longer than anyone previously thought this family of viruses had been in existence. The article, entitled "Genomic Fossils Calibrate the Long-Term Evolution of Hepadnaviruses," marks the first time that endogenous hepadnaviruses have been found in any organism. An endogenous virus is one that deposits itself or fragments of itself into the chromosome of an organism, allowing it to be passed from generation-to-generation. Previously, most of these known "fossilized" virus sequences came from retroviruses.

Oldest evidence of leprosy found in 4000-year-old skeleton PhysOrg - May 27, 2009
A biological anthropologist from Appalachian State University working with an undergraduate student from Appalachian, an evolutionary biologist from UNC Greensboro, and a team of archaeologists from Deccan College (Pune, India) recently reported analysis of a 4000-year-old skeleton from India bearing evidence of leprosy. This skeleton represents both the earliest archaeological evidence for human infection with Mycobacterium leprae in the world and the first evidence for the disease in prehistoric India.

Oldest Human TB Case Found in 500,000-Year-Old Fossil   National Geographic - December 8, 2007

Tuberculosis may have infected human ancestors much earlier than previously thought, according to scientists who have discovered traces of the disease in a hominin fossil about 500,000 years old. Researchers say the findings could provide a better understanding of the roles of climate, health, and evolution in ancient human migration. The fossilized Homo erectus, an extinct branch of early human ancestors, was discovered in a block of travertine rock mined from a quarry near Kocabas in western Turkey. Based on the shape of the skull and large ridges of the brow, scientists think the remains belong to a male between 15 and 40 years of age. But they also found something else. The findings offer insight into how vitamin D might have played a crucial role in early human migration. Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin by exposure to sunlight. Since ultraviolet radiation penetrates only the top layers of skin, people with darker complexions produce less of the vitamin, as the pigment in their skin filters out the light. Previous studies have suggested that humans migrating north developed a lighter skin complexion as an adaptive response to maintain their vitamin D levels when exposed to less sunlight.