Remains of medieval dwarf found in Poland

(ORDO NEWS) — In Poland, the remains of a medieval male dwarf, whose height was only 115 centimeters, were discovered. Paleopathologists believe that achondroplasia was the cause of this anomaly.

Among other pathologies, scientists noted Lery-Weil dyschondrosthesis, as well as ulnar hemimelia. This is reported in an article published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.

The term dwarfism (nanism, dwarfism) is used to describe abnormally short stature, which is more than three standard deviations below the average height for the corresponding age and sex.

Currently, scientists have more than 300 different reasons that can cause this anomaly. However, most often dwarfism is caused by achondroplasia, a genetic disease known since antiquity, which is characterized by incorrect body proportions. People in this case have short arms and legs, but the size of the body remains normal.

In archeology and paleoanthropology, the oldest example of dwarfism is the remains of the man Romito-2, discovered in one of the burials of the Upper Paleolithic era in the Italian cave of Romito.

The earliest known case of achondroplasia dates back to Ancient Egypt. Last year, a more rare ancient pathology was discovered in Cyprus on the remains of the Chalcolithic era (about 3500-2800 BC) – microcephalic osteodysplastic primordial dwarfism type II.

In addition to human remains, there is also extensive evidence of dwarfism in folklore, ancient written sources and art monuments (ancient Egyptian figurines, Indian carvings, Mayan artifacts and Chinese ceramics).

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Location of the Lekno necropolis

Magdalena Matczak from the University of Liverpool, together with colleagues from Poland and the United States, examined human remains found during excavations of the medieval necropolis of Lekno and tentatively dated to the 14th-16th centuries.

Since the 12th century, there was a Cistercian monastery on this territory, on the lands of which a burial complex was built in the 13th century. Archaeologists have discovered in it about 400 burial places of monks and local residents.

Radiocarbon analysis showed that this individual died at the end of the 9th – beginning of the 11th century (about 882-1015), that is, he was not associated with the Cistercians.

It was an adult man who lived for about 30–45 years. Examination of his bones revealed a number of pathologies. So, the growth of this man was only 115 centimeters.

According to paleopathologists, dwarfism was due to achondroplasia. This, in particular, is indicated by the short bones of the limbs (much less than the average values) and the disproportionately large skull with protruding frontal tubercles.

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Preservation of the investigated skeleton
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Skull of a male with dwarfism

According to paleopathologists, achondroplasia was not the only disease from which the man suffered. So, he has signs of numerous skeletal anomalies caused by Lery-Weil dyschondrosteosis, a genetic disease with a pseudoautosomal dominant inheritance mechanism.

In addition, the bones show another anomaly – ulnar hemimelia. The latter was manifested in the fact that the right ulna was significantly shorter than the right radius or left ulna. According to the researchers, this combination of pathologies has never been previously reported in the bioarchaeological literature.

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