Ancient Ailment? Early human may have carried tuberculosis

Check your tile countertop for fossils. A consumptive Homo erectus—or at least a piece of him—might be trapped there.

While cutting coveted travertine into tiles, a saw operator in Turkey sliced through a fossilized skull and gave the pieces to his supervisor. The fragments from the 500,000-year-old rock sat on a shelf behind the supervisor’s desk until a local geologist visiting the fossil-rich site claimed them.

“The workers didn’t know what it was,” says John Kappelman of the University of Texas at Austin, who studied the fossil. “The first saw cut took off a bit of the top of the [skull] and the second saw cut went through the middle of the eye orbit.”

The partial skull is the first H. erectus fossil found in Turkey, Kappelman and colleagues report online and in an upcoming American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 


Kappelman says the skull’s heavy brow ridge and sharply sloped forehead mark it as H. erectus.

Moreover, he says the inside of the skull displays telltale signs of tuberculosis, which in rare cases infects the lining of the brain. If confirmed, the find would push back the origin of the disease in hominins—the anthropological term describing human and near-human predecessors—back hundreds of thousands of years.

Read the article here.


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