The (PTC) Bitter Taste Test: Does it Apply To Neanderthals?

The PTC test is well known to the point of annoyance. Practically, every biological anthropology class I ever had mentioned it, as did a number of the cultural anthropology. A new article in Biology Letters – requires a subscription puts a new spin on the question.

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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. Continue reading

Interesting Osteology and Paleopathology Related News

Science Daily mentions a number of interesting items related to Osteology and Paleopatholgy.

First, Gene Vital To Early Embryonic Cells Forming A Normal Heart And Skull:

In a study posted online June 15 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a research team at Cincinnati Children’s reports that too little of the gene/protein SHP2 interferes with the normal developmental activity of what are called neural crest cells. These cells, which occur very early in embryonic development, migrate to specific regions of the embryo. While doing so, the cells are supposed to differentiate and give rise to certain nerve tissues, craniofacial bones or smooth muscle tissue of the heart.

Second, Relationship Between Bone Density And Erosion In Arthritis:

Led by Daniel H. Solomon of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston , the study involved 163 postmenopausal women with RA, none of whom were taking osteoporosis medications. Participants underwent bone density scans of the hip and spine, as well as X-rays of the hand to determine if they had bone erosions.

The results showed that hip bone mineral density (BMD) correlated with bone erosion, but the relationship was not statistically significant after adjusting for clinical factors such as age, BMI and use of oral glucocorticoids used to treat RA. The relationship did appear stronger, however, in patients with early RA. “Our findings suggest that the relationship between focal erosions and generalized osteoporosis is complicated and modified by many aspects of RA and other factors,” the authors state. They point out that with longer disease duration, other variables such as the use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), disease activity and markers of inflammation may dilute the relationship between focal erosions and hip BMD.

Third, and this relates to RA as well, Genes That Regulate Human Circadian Rhythm Significantly Disturbed In Individuals With Arthritis:

Professor Shunichi Shiozawa of Kobe University Graduate School of Medicine and University Hospital, Japan, who led the research said: “Our study has shown that arthritis interferes with the genetics behind an individual’s circadian rhythm and, specifically, that certain body clock genes may play a part in the activation of TNF-alpha, a signaling molecule that has an important role in the inflammation commonly seen in a number of rheumatologic conditions. The
identification of this curious pathway may help to explain the 24-hour symptom cycle seen by many patients who experience worsening of joint pain and stiffness in the mornings, and lead to further research into new approaches for improving daily quality of life.”

I’ll have more to say about these later.

Update 1: It is very easy, when looking at paleopathology, to focus on things like periostitis, or eburnation, or some such. Take rheumatoid arthritis, for example. RA is an autoimmune disease that affects multiple systems. A number of factors can impact the disease, such as climate, diets high in protein and unsaturated fats, and heredity. RA primarily affects the synovial joints mainly in the hands, feet, wrist, elbows, and knees. The synovial membrane is affected first and eventually destroyed, during this process the underlying bones are subject to erosion at the joint edges and surfaces. This can lead to, among other things, partial dislocation. Some of these changes can be identified in the archaeological record, but they can be mistaken for other types of disease. The linkage of RA and hip bone mineral density is certainly interesting as RA doesn’t commonly affect the hip. The fact that RA also seems to interfere with the genetics behind the circadian rhythm is also interesting as it can lead to increased susceptibility to other insults.

The SHP2 study is interesting because it sheds some light on cranial formation and some of the things that can send it astray. The point in mentioning these three studies is that being familiar with these kinds of issues can lend power to our ability to understand the patterning of diseases in the past.

Pathology of Chimpanzee Skeletons At Kibale

Paleopathology, for all practical purposes, is the study of the diseases and traumas that affect humans in the past. Necessarily, it is restricted to the study of the skeleton which severely limits the scope of what diseases can be studied. Even with that restriction a wide variety of questions can be addressed. We can, for example, ask how the change in lifestyle from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist impacted human health. Or we can look at disease patterning in a given lifestyle. We can also look at whether disease and trauma differentially affect a given group such as young versus old or male versus female.
Since chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, understanding the diseases and traumas that impact the chimp skeleton might shed some light on human evolution. We can ask, for example, what selective factors impact chimpanzees It goes without saying that it would also be helpful to conservation biologists as well. There is a growing body of literature on the subject.

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Interesting Anthropology News

There are a number of interesting anthropology stories in the news. My picks below the fold.

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Cancer in Norway and the Concrete Pyramid Theory Resurfaces

Physorg.Com has an interesting story concerning two skeletons found in a viking ship burial discovered in Norway in the early 1900’s (the ship burial dates to 843). Recent DNA and x-ray evidence indicates that one of individuals had cancer:

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Syphilis: The View from Bioarchaeology

PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases recently published an interesting article called On the Origin of the Treponematoses: A Phylogenetic Approach. The paper used data from 21 genetic regions in 26 geographically separated strains of the Treponema bacterium. Before looking at the results of the PLoS study, however, a little bit of background is in order.

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