Rickets, Neanderthals, And Lubenow: Part Two

In the previous post in this series I looked at vitamin D metabolism and the effects of vitamin D deficiency on the skeleton. So, lets talk about Lubenow and Neanderthals. Lubenows discussion of Neanderthals and rickets occurs in chapter 14. He begins the chapter by invoking the Genesis flood to explain the ice ages, which only lasted, according to Lubenow, for 700 years (give or take).
Humans would have responded to the harsh conditions by seeking out caves, constructing shelters, and wearing heavier clothing. According to Lubenow this is a recipe for rickets. According to Lubenow, there is no archaeological evidence to indicate that Neanderthals (as well as Homo erectus and early archaic Homo sapiens had a dietary source of vitamin D. Anatomically modern H. Sapiens did, according to Lubenow – but not because of archaeological evidence but because of their “modern morphology”. To buttress his argument Lubenow cites the 1963 edition of Encyclopedia Americana and this article by Ivanhoe, although he doesn’t mention the rebuttle by Mayr and Campbell (full disclosure, I haven’t read either of these two articles as I don’t have access). According to Lubenow, Ivanhoe claims that all Neanderthal skulls of children studied at that point displayed evidence of rickets. To explain how paleoanthropologists could have missed this evidence Lubenow argues that medical science has eliminated rickets in precisely those countries where paloanthropology is practiced the most, and, consequently, because of preconceived notions on the part of evolutionists, this evidence was missed:

The Neanderthals, Java Man, and Peking Man were also the kind of fossils evolutionists were looking for. By a unique coincidence, rickets gives to the skull and to the long bones of the body a superficial apish cast the evolutionist were expecting to find in the “missing link.”

Lubenow’s argument runs into catastrophic difficulties from the get go. If the flood wiped out all but Noah and his family then Neanderthals and Homo erectus should have the same abilities to obtain dietary sources of vitamin D as Cro-Magnons. Worse yet, Lubenow claims that Cro-Magnons were later in time than Neanderthals and Homo erectus but doesn’t explain how we went from Noah and family with adequate sources of vitamin D to Neanderthals and Homo erectus which were vitamin D deficient to Cro-Magnons which once again had adequate sources of vitamin D.

Notice also that with the exception of a few vague references to “superficial apish” appearances Lubenow really doesn’t discuss the specific morphology. I will get back to that below, but I would like to address the issue of medical science and the elimination of rickets. As mentioned in the previous post on the subject rickets has been a ongoing area of research in the medical community. A simple search on Pub Med gives 9884 published articles ranging from 1884 to 2010. In the area of anthropology several important books on paleopathology, such as Ortner and Putschar’s Identification of Pathological Conditions in Human Skeletal and Brickley and Ives’ Bioarchaeology of Metabolic Bone Disease give extensive information on recognizing rickets in the skeleton. Over and above this, it is estimated that over one billion people worldwide suffer from some form of vitamin D deficiency. The idea that paleoanthropologists have failed to recognize the expression of rickets and osteomalacia in human skeletons because of some alleged superficial resemblance to apes is, to say the least, untenable.

This brings us to the central question, or rather central questions. To what extent do the affects of rickets cause a skeleton to resemble apes? To what extent do Neanderthals resemble apes? Let’s look at the femur. In chimps, the femur is relatively straight:
In rickets, however the femur is curved:

From Ortner and Putschar 1981

Chimp femurs are short compared to the tibia, australopithecines less so. In Neanderthals the femur is longer than the tibia. There is some anterior-posterior bowing in the Neanderthal femur but this is in a different direction and not as extreme as the bowing caused by rickets. Given that chimp femurs are relatively straight, rickets would not cause a modern human femur to look apelike. Let’s look at the crania of Neanderthals. There are a number of features that distinguish the skulls of Neanderthals from those of modern humans: occipital bun with suprainiac fossa, small mastoid process, low forehead and flat parietals, midfacial projection with wide nasal region, inflated cheeks, retromolar gap, no chin. None of these, however, are diagnostic of rickets. Take the parietals, for example, rickets does cause parietal flattening but this is asymmetrical and is caused by sutures becoming wider. In Neanderthals both sutures are some what flattened and there is no asymmetry because there are no issues with abnormal suture closure. One could go through each of these traits and show that they are not caused by rickets. One more example should be sufficient to demonstrate the point. In Neanderthal mandibles there is a gap between the third molar and the ascending ramus, this is called the retromolar gap. There is no evidence in the literature on vitamin D deficiency that would indicate that it could cause a retromolar gap, much less two. In summary, rickets does not cause a modern skeleton to look like apes, nor does it cause the diagnostic traits that distinguish Neanderthals from modern humans.


Brickley and Ives (2008) Bioarchaeology of Metabolic Bone Disease

Brickley et al (2007) An Investigation of Skeletal Indicators of Vitamin D Deficiency in Adults: Effective Markers for Interpreting Past Living Conditions and Pollution Levels in 18th and 19th Century Birmingham, England. AJPA 132:67-79

Brickley et al (2010) Evaluation and Interpretation of Residual Rickets Deformities in Adults. Int. J. Osteoarchaeol. 20:54-66

Mankin (1974) Review Article: Rickets, Osteomalacia, and Renal Osteodystrophy, Part One. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 56:101-128

Mankin (1974) Review Article: Rickets, Osteomalacia, and Renal Osteodystrophy, Part Two. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 56:352-386

Mays et al (2006) Skeletal Manifestation of Rickets in Infants and Young Children in a Historic Population From England. AJPA 129:362-374

Ortner and Putschar (1981) Identification of Pathological Conditions in Human Skeletal Remains. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology; 28

4 Responses

  1. I’m glad you got back to this, afarensis! I couldn’t really care less about Lubenow’s idiot thesis, but the info on rickets, Vitamin D deficiency and skeletal morphology is all first rate, thanks!

    Now, wasn’t there going to be more on sediba and ancestral hominin phylogeny…!


  2. Yes, I will get to it. I planning on doing something on bones with tool marks recently found at Dikika first.

  3. I’m sure you will.

    But you’re a free agent, answerable to no sapient…!

  4. Thar’s not what Mrs. Afarensis says!

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