Saturday Paleopathology Blogging: Preview

Jane had a problem. Her (his?) toe was sore. Jane never sought medical treatment for the condition, but 65 million years later medical help finally arrived:

Chistopher Vittore, MD (with Mike Henderson) examined the pathological pedal phalanx of Jane. He showed radiographs (as a radiologist, he pointed out that an image made with X-rays is a “radiograph”: NOBODY can “see X-rays”!!) and CT scans of the wound, and got a diagnosis of a Brodie abscess.

(This is actually another term for subacute osteomyelitis)

In the meantime, osteoarthritic diseases have been found in Platycarpus (a Mesozoic Mosasaur) and Diplodocus longus. Ankylosing spondylitis has been found in Polycanthus foxi. Other pathological conditions reflective of degenerative joint disease has been found in Miocene crocodilians, Pleistocene cave bears, sabre tooth tigers, mammoths, cattle, hyenas, Moas and Aepyornis. Skeletons wear out, break down, and and are subject to a wide variety of diseases. Consider the following:

The 4 1/2-foot-long Triceratops pelvis had 58 definite bite marks and 22 probable bite marks that could only have been made by a T-rex, Erickson says. A cast of one of the punctures was an exact replica of the canine-like tooth of an adult Tyrannosaurus, and distinctive serrations like those on the cutting edges of T-rex teeth could be seen where the teeth had scraped the bone surface. Many of the bites were furrows produced by what Erickson calls “puncture and pull” biting. These are produced where the teeth penetrated the bone and ripped back through the carcass with all the force of the T-rex’s 10,000 pounds.

We can also identify the effects of predation on Cambrian trilobites. The skeleton is also subject to fractures and injury due to warfare or interpersonal violence, such as the example of blunt force trauma below:
Blunt force trauma

When it comes to humans one has to consider other cultural factors such as trephination:


or cranial deformation:


I can’t speak for the paleontologists, but in anthropological circles the analysis of pathology and trauma is part and parcel of the analysis of a skeleton. So it is somewhat surprising to hear creationists (young earth or ID) using arguments about pathology to try and undermine human evolution. In future posts I will be looking at how pathology affects the skeleton, how anthropologists identify pathology (and trauma), and what pathology can tells us about how our predeceesors lived. The posts will always be on Saturday (but not every Saturday) with the next one in the series scheduled for 8/5/06. It concerns a “murder” mystery that I’m sure most of you who are acquainted with paleoanthropology will know about.
As an afterthought, many have written on the subject of the creationists use of pathology (the best being Jim Foley’s stuff for Talk Origins – here for example), hopefully these posts will serve as a useful supplement…

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