|27 April 2014
Earliest evidence of gigantism-like disease found in California
The remains of a man buried 3,800 years ago in a richly decorated California grave bear unusual but unmistakable features - protruding brow, lantern jaw, thick leg and arm bones, and teeth so crowded together that at one point they erupt in rows three deep - signs of acromegaly, a rare disorder of the endocrine system similar to gigantism.
According to Dr Eric Bartelink, a physical anthropologist at California State University, Chico, "It is the earliest evidence of this condition in humans, the only documented case from prehistoric California, [and] one of the more complete skeletons documented with this condition."
Unlike true gigantism, acromegaly doesn't begin until early adulthood, stimulating exaggerated growth wherever bone development is still possible - typically in the face, hands, and feet. While this man wasn't exceptionally large for his time - about 170 centimeters - his skull was both taller and wider than average.
The man, believed to have been in his mid-30s at time of death, was part of the Windmiller hunter-gatherer culture - one of the earliest sedentary societies in the Central Valley.
"The mortuary assemblages are rich with projectile points, shell beads, crystal, and charmstones," Dr Bartelink said, "suggesting a more-or-less egalitarian society compared to groups more recent in time."
In this case, the body was daubed with red ochre on the head, chest, pelvis, left elbow, and on both hands and feet. The grave was festooned with 48 beads made from the shells of Olivella sea snails, and another 7 ornaments crafted from abalone, but such artifacts aren't unique to this grave.
Windmillers typically buried their dead laying flat and face-down rather than in a flexed position, with the heads pointing west. This man was buried face-up, instead of prone, with his head oriented north rather than the west.
Edited from Western Digs (24 March 2014)
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