An international team of researchers found some 500,000-year-old pieces of the skull of a Homo erectus during soil investigations in a quarry in western Turkey. It is likely that the skull parts came from the remains of an approximately 18-30-year-old man originally from Africa, research had shown.
Examinations of these parts of the skull by the paleopathologist Prof. Michael Schulz at the University of Göttingen, which are currently only available as a cast, now allow the assumption that this person was probably suffering from tuberculosis. In order to find clear evidence for this theory, Prof. Martin Schulz will examine the original skull in Turkey using light microscopy and endoscopy. For this reason, he wants to travel to Turkey in the summer of this year. If his previous assumptions are confirmed, this would be the only known evidence worldwide that people were already suffering from tuberculosis in the fossil period.
Until now it was assumed that this bacterial infectious disease only appeared in humans a few thousand years ago. If the traces found by Prof. Schulz are confirmed, it would be the earliest evidence of tuberculosis in humans to date.
Characteristic of a certain form of tuberculosis
"From a purely morphological point of view, it is likely that the dimples and indentations found on the inside of the anterior skull are the remains of a meningitis caused by tuberculosis," Prof. Schulz explained in an interview.
Prof. Schulz and his US colleague and researcher John Kappelmann from the University of Austin discovered the indentations in the skull parts, which were around one to two millimeters in size, when they were researching the skull parts. In their view, both the shape and the placement of the indentations clearly indicate inflammation of the meninges. These signs are characteristic of a certain form of tuberculosis, leptomeningitis tuberculosa, which can only develop in people who are still alive.
As a spokesman for the University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) reported, the traces are so clear that the original skull should definitely be examined further in order to confirm the clear evidence of tuberculosis 500,000 years ago.
UMG press release
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