Scientists diagnose 100,000-year-old man

(ORDO NEWS) — In the middle of the Stone Age, somewhere in Morocco, a hunter-gatherer began to stumble, suffering from dizziness and hearing loss. But only now it was possible to find out the cause of his illness.

Researchers from the University of Coimbra (Portugal) studied the skull of a representative of the species Homo sapiens , whose skeleton was found in Morocco about 50 years ago.

The results are presented in a paper published in the International Journal of Paleopathology .

The cave of Dar es Soltan II on the Atlantic coast of Morocco began to be studied back in the 70s of the last century.

There were found fossil remains of the skeletons of three people, including an adult male (he received the designation Dar es Soltan II H5).

The study of the cultural layers of the cave showed that it was inhabited at various times: from the Aterian archaeological culture (Middle Stone Age) to the Neolithic.

Scientists diagnose 100 000 year old man 2
The map shows where Dar es Soltan II Cave is located

The skull of Dar es Soltan II H5 has been dated to be 100,000 years old, close to the time when modern humans emerged from Africa.

In this regard, some scientists even called him the ancestor of all modern people, which, of course, is an exaggeration.

It is usually assigned to Homo sapiens , although the skull has a number of archaic features. There are suggestions that it was a sapiens mestizo with someone else or an ancestor of the Cro-Magnon.

Portuguese anthropologists led by Dany Coutinho Nogueira examined the skull of Dar es Soltan II H5 using micro CT. It’s like a hospital CT scan, but with better resolution.

Particular attention was paid to the temporal bone. In this part are the organs of hearing (cochlea) and balance ( semicircular canals ), which are studied in paleoanthropology to distinguish human groups: the morphology of this structure in Homo sapiens differs from that of Neanderthals.

Microtomography showed that the semicircular canals of the ancient sapiens were partially ossified, that is, they had bone in those parts where it should not have been.

Scientists came to the conclusion that the person suffered from labyrinthitis – inflammation of the inner ear.

Moreover, the disease, possibly of an infectious nature, took such a form in which ossification of the semicircular canals and the cochlea began – the so-called labyrinthitis ossificans.

Scientists diagnose 100 000 year old man 3
Skull of Dar es Soltan II H5

This disease leads to balance problems, dizziness and hearing loss. This condition is extremely dangerous for the hunter-gatherer, as it limits his ability to hunt and find food.

Judging by the fact that the disease had gone far enough and the semicircular canals had become very ossified, the person was sick, and already in the phase when he became deaf and became almost completely recumbent.

This Homo sapiens died a few months after the onset of the disease. It would not have been able to live so long without the help of other individuals, because it simply would not have found food and would have starved to death before the semicircular canals of its ear would have become so ossified.

This suggests that he was taken care of by the rest of the group – at least for several months.

Only two hunter-gatherer fossils discovered to date have this pathology. The first is from Singi (a skull found in 1924 in Eastern Sudan).

But the age of the Sudanese discovery, according to scientists, is more than 130 thousand years. There is still no consensus on the species of the owner of the skull. Most anthropologists attribute it to Homo helmei .

Homo helmei had features that are common to both Heidelberg man and sapiens. Therefore, it is considered a transitional species between these two.

Thus, if we accept that the hunter-gatherer from the Dar es-Soltan II cave was precisely Homo sapiens (and this is most likely the case), then this is the oldest identified case of acquired deafness in a member of our species.


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