Oldest Case of Paralysis in the Archaeological Record?

The Discovery Channel has an interesting story on what is, possibly, the oldest cast of human paralysis in the archaeological record. The skeleton dates to the Neolithic (circa 3,500-4,000 years ago) and was discovered in Vietnam – about 62 miles south of Hanoi.

The skeleton belonged to a male about 25 years of age. From the Discovery Channel:

Called Man Bac Burial 9, or simply M9, the young man suffered from paraplegia or possibly quadriplegia due to a rare disorder called Klippel-Feil Syndrome, a condition involving congenital fusion of the spine.

The disorder, which can make sufferers look as if they have a short neck, is also often associated with various complications.

In the case of M9, posture-related complications forced his head to tilt to his right side, a condition known as torticollis. M9 also likely had problems chewing.

Klippel-Feil Syndrome involves the fusion of two of the seven cervical vertebrae. Additionally, Klippel-Feil Syndrome is associated with a wide variety of abnormalities such as scoliosis, cleft palate, and malformations of the heart and other organ systems. There does seem to be a genetic underpinning for the condition. At any rate, one of the interesting aspects to the story is the following:

“Amazingly, this man survived in a subsistence Neolithic economy with total lower body paralysis, and at best minimal upper body mobility for at least a decade prior to death,” Lorna Tilley, the Australian National University Ph.D. candidate who excavated the remains with lead researcher Marc Oxenham, told Discovery News.

Completely immobile below the waist, with radically limited upper body mobility and disabling torticollis, M9 was totally dependent on others for every aspect of daily life.

“He needed intensive nursing, not only for basic needs, such as eating, drinking (and) hygiene, but also for preventing or treating the common complications associated with his condition. We are talking of bed sores, urinary tract and gastrointestinal problems, respiratory problems, thrombosis and pain,” said Tilley, whose research focuses on care-giving in prehistory.

For a Neolithic community to invest this amount of care and resources is fascinating. Apparently, Lorna Tilley is doing a study of this community in terms of care giving. I would love to read it…

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2 Responses

  1. That is fascinating.

  2. The published paper, when/if it appears, ought to be entrancing.

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