Abstract Background: It is generally accepted that height distribution in modern populations is nearly symmetrical. However, it may deviate from symmetry when nutritional status is inadequate. Aim and subjects: This study provides an analysis of changes in the shape of the height distributions among Swiss conscripts (n?=?267?829) over the past 130 years based on a highly representative, standardized and unchanged data source. Results: The analysed distributions from the 1870s-1890s conscription years are markedly left-skewed (-0.76 to -0.82), with short and very short men significantly over-represented. Standard deviation is 7.7?cm. In particular, the left tails of the late-19th- and early-20th-century distributions are very heavy. In the first half of the 20th century the first signs of a diminution of the heavy left tail are observable, by the 1970s the phenomenon disappears and height distribution becomes symmetrical; standard deviation is now 6.5?cm. Conclusion: The relatively strong left-skewness during the late 19th and early 20th centuries may have been due to the interaction of a number of causes, chiefly malnutrition, a wider range in physical development at age 19 and widespread iodine deficiency.
Paleopathology has revealed much about disease in the past but is usually limited to conditions with osteological manifestations; this often excludes acute soft tissue infections and causes of death for most individuals in the past and present. Our understanding of the evolution of disease is essential for contextualizing and predicting the epidemiological shifts that are happening in modern society, as high rates of infectious disease coexist alongside high rates of chronic disease in rates unlike those observed previously in human history. Moreover, many physiological states not previously classified as “disease” (obesity) have become pathologized, influencing our conception of disease and what defines health. By using the Galler Collection, a pre-antibiotic and pre-chemotherapeutic osteological series with modern autopsy records, our research quantifies disease burden of the past using the Charlson Index (CI), a modern comorbidity index of disease severity. Galler Collection remains and autopsy records were scored with the Charlson Index to correlate bone findings with soft tissue findings, and statistical analysis was performed for cumulative scores and absolute diagnosis counts, with patients stratified by sex and cause of death (pneumonia or cancer). Osteological diagnosis counts were more predictive of soft-tissue autopsy disease counts than were associated cumulative CI scores. Diagnosis counts and CI scores for osteological data were more closely related to associated soft tissue data for cancer patients than for pneumonia patients. This research indicates how interdisciplinary paleopathological analysis assists in making more reliable assessments of health and mortality in the past, with implications for trending and predicting future epidemiological shifts.
Identification of historic pathogens is challenging since false positives and negatives are a serious risk. Environmental non-pathogenic contaminants are ubiquitous. Furthermore, public genetic databases contain limited information regarding these species. High-throughput sequencing may help reliably detect and identify historic pathogens.
Calcified dental plaque (dental calculus) preserves for millennia and entraps biomolecules from all domains of life and viruses. We report the first, to our knowledge, high-resolution taxonomic and protein functional characterization of the ancient oral microbiome and demonstrate that the oral cavity has long served as a reservoir for bacteria implicated in both local and systemic disease. We characterize (i) the ancient oral microbiome in a diseased state, (ii) 40 opportunistic pathogens, (iii) ancient human-associated putative antibiotic resistance genes, (iv) a genome reconstruction of the periodontal pathogen Tannerella forsythia, (v) 239 bacterial and 43 human proteins, allowing confirmation of a long-term association between host immune factors, 'red complex' pathogens and periodontal disease, and (vi) DNA sequences matching dietary sources. Directly datable and nearly ubiquitous, dental calculus permits the simultaneous investigation of pathogen activity, host immunity and diet, thereby extending direct investigation of common diseases into the human evolutionary past.
Owing to its completeness, the 1.5 million year old Nariokotome boy skeleton KNM-WT 15000 is central for understanding the skeletal biology of Homo erectus. Nevertheless, since the reported asymmetries and distortions of Nariokotome boy's axial skeleton suggest adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, possibly associated with congenital skeletal dysplasia, it is questionable whether it still can be used as a reference for H. erectus. Recently, however, the presence of skeletal dysplasia has been refuted. Here, we present a morphological and morphometric reanalysis of the assertion of idiopathic scoliosis. We demonstrate that unarticulated vertebral columns of non-scoliotic and scoliotic individuals can be distinguished based on the lateral deviation of the spinous process, lateral and sagittal wedging, vertebral body torsion, pedicle thickness asymmetry, and asymmetry of superior and inferior articular facet areas. A principal component analysis of the overall asymmetry of all seven vertebral shape variables groups KNM-WT 15000 within non-scoliotic modern humans. There is, however, an anomaly of vertebrae T1-T2 that is compatible with a short left convex curve at the uppermost thoracic region, possibly due to injury or local growth dysbalance. Asymmetries of the facet joints L3-L5 suggest a local right convex curve in the lower lumbar region that probably resulted from juvenile traumatic disc herniation. This pattern is incompatible with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis or other types of scoliosis, including congenital, neuromuscular or syndromic scoliosis. It is, however, consistent with a recent reanalysis of the rib cage that did not reveal any asymmetry. Except for these possibly trauma-related anomalies, the Nariokotome boy fossil therefore seems to belong to a normal H. erectus youth without evidence for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis or other severe pathologies of the axial skeleton.
Recently, a positive correlation between alanine transaminase activity and body mass was established among healthy young individuals of normal weight. Here we explore further this relationship and propose a physiological rationale for this link.
Mummified human tissues are of great interest in forensics and biomolecular archaeology. The aim of this study was to analyse post mortem DNA alterations in soft tissues in order to improve our knowledge of the patterns of DNA degradation that occur during salt mummification. In this study, the lower limb of a female human donor was amputated within 24 h post mortem and mummified using a process designed to simulate the salt dehydration phase of natural or artificial mummification. Skin and skeletal muscle were sampled at multiple time points over a period of 322 days and subjected to genetic analysis. Patterns of genomic fragmentation, miscoding lesions, and overall DNA degradation in both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA was assessed by different methods: gel electrophoresis, multiplex comparative autosomal STR length amplification, cloning and sequence analysis, and PCR amplification of different fragment sizes using a damage sensitive recombinant polymerase. The study outcome reveals a very good level of DNA preservation in salt mummified tissues over the course of the experiment, with an overall slower rate of DNA fragmentation in skin compared to muscle.
Rising levels of overweight and obesity are important public-health concerns worldwide. The purpose of this study is to elucidate their prevalence and trends in Switzerland by analyzing variations in Body Mass Index (BMI) of Swiss conscripts.
Ruminant milk and dairy products are important food resources in many European, African, and Middle Eastern societies. These regions are also associated with derived genetic variants for lactase persistence. In mammals, lactase, the enzyme that hydrolyzes the milk sugar lactose, is normally down-regulated after weaning, but at least five human populations around the world have independently evolved mutations regulating the expression of the lactase-phlorizin-hydrolase gene. These mutations result in a dominant lactase persistence phenotype and continued lactase tolerance in adulthood. A single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) at C/T-13910 is responsible for most lactase persistence in European populations, but when and where the T-13910 polymorphism originated and the evolutionary processes by which it rose to high frequency in Europe have been the subject of strong debate. A history of dairying is presumed to be a prerequisite, but archaeological evidence is lacking. In this study, DNA was extracted from the dentine of 36 individuals excavated at a medieval cemetery in Dalheim, Germany. Eighteen individuals were successfully genotyped for the C/T-13910 SNP by molecular cloning and sequencing, of which 13 (72%) exhibited a European lactase persistence genotype: 44% CT, 28% TT. Previous ancient DNA-based studies found that lactase persistence genotypes fall below detection levels in most regions of Neolithic Europe. Our research shows that by AD 1200, lactase persistence frequency had risen to over 70% in this community in western Central Europe. Given that lactase persistence genotype frequency in present-day Germany and Austria is estimated at 71-80%, our results suggest that genetic lactase persistence likely reached modern levels before the historic population declines associated with the Black Death, thus excluding plague-associated evolutionary forces in the rise of lactase persistence in this region. This new evidence sheds light on the dynamic evolutionary history of the European lactase persistence trait and its global cultural implications.
To assess changes in different tissues during the process of artificial mummification by natron using computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and to translate the results to image interpretation in paleoradiological studies of ancient mummies.
X-ray imaging is a nondestructive and preferred method in paleopathology to reconstruct the history of ancient diseases. Sophisticated imaging technologies such as computed tomography (CT) have become common for the investigation of skeletal disorders in human remains. Researchers have investigated the impact of ionizing radiation on living cells, but never on ancient cells in dry tissue. The effects of CT exposure on ancient cells have not been examined in the past and may be important for subsequent genetic analysis. To remedy this shortcoming, we developed different Monte Carlo models to simulate X-ray irradiation on ancient cells. Effects of mummification were considered by using two sizes of cells and three different phantom tissues, which enclosed the investigated cell cluster. This cluster was positioned at the isocenter of a CT scanner model, where the cell hit probabilities P(0,1,…, n) were calculated according to the Poisson distribution. To study the impact of the dominant physics process, CT scans for X-ray spectra of 80 and 120 kVp were simulated. Comparison between normal and dry tissue phantoms revealed that the probability of unaffected cells increased by 21 % following cell shrinkage for 80 kVp, while for 120 kVp, a further increase of unaffected cells of 23 % was observed. Consequently, cell shrinkage caused by dehydration decreased the impact of X-ray radiation on mummified cells significantly. Moreover, backscattered electrons in cortical bone protected deeper-lying ancient cells from radiation damage at 80 kVp X-rays.
Jörg Jenatsch was a Swiss defender of independence and a fighter for liberty in the 17th century. With the help of three living male members of the Jenatsch family, we successfully identified a skeleton exhumed from Chur cathedral as the remains of Jörg Jenatsch. Our conclusion was based upon complete Y-STR and Y-SNP profiles that could be generated by replicate analyses of a bone sample available to us. The skeleton and the three living family members carried the same Y-SNP haplogroup, but were discordant at three of 23 Y-STR loci. This notwithstanding, conservative biostatistical evaluation of the data suggests that the Chur skeleton is at least 20 times more likely than not to be Jörg Jenatsch.
Because Swiss conscription has been mandatory and standardized since 1875 and measurement procedures for height and weight have not changed, recruitment data (representative for 80-100% of the living young men) provide a solid foundation for a detailed study of changes of young men in Switzerland over the past 140 years. The average Swiss body height increased markedly by 15 cm between the 1870s and the 1970s (birth years). Improvements in living conditions are likely to have been among the main environmental determinants of this increase, but there are other likely candidates, all of which worked via the endocrine system. First, widespread iodine deficiency at the end of the 19th century helps to account for an overrepresentation of very short conscripts, for the low level of average height in Switzerland in general as well as for the tremendous regional variation in average height. Second, the doubling of annual per capita milk consumption between 1875 and 1900 was probably a key factor in the height increase, operating directly on IGF-1 concentration. Third, public-health measures, such as the iodine-deficiency prophylaxis via weekly iodine tablets for schoolchildren and via iodized table salt, introduced in the 1920s, may have been largely responsible for the dramatic increase in height during the interwar period. Since the 1970s (birth years), the positive height trend slowed down, body shape in Switzerland has evolved from growth in height to growth in breadth. Precisely how todays complex of genetic, epigenetic, environmental, and endocrine factors limiting height growth and promoting body breadth and excess weight operates has yet to be completely understood.
Evolutionary medicine (EM) is a growing field focusing on the evolutionary basis of human diseases and their changes through time. To date, the majority of EM studies have used pure theories of hominin macroevolution to explain the present-day state of human health. Here, we propose a different approach by addressing more empirical and health-oriented research concerning past, current and future microevolutionary changes of human structure, functions and pathologies. Studying generation-to-generation changes of human morphology that occurred in historical times, and still occur in present-day populations under the forces of evolution, helps to explain medical conditions and warns clinicians that their current practices may influence future humans. Also, analyzing historic tissue specimens such as mummies is crucial in order to address the molecular evolution of pathogens, of the human genome, and their coadaptations.
The famous Iceman Ötzi (South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology, Bolzano, Italy), a Neolithic human ice mummy, offers a unique opportunity to study evolutionary aspects of oral disease. The aim of this study was to assess, for the very first time, his oral cavity, which surprisingly had never been examined systematically. Based on several computed tomography (CT) scans from 1991 onwards and on macroscopic investigation, only a few findings, such as a central maxillary diastema, heavy abrasions, and missing wisdom teeth, were known. We re-evaluated the latest CT scans from 2005 and found various oral pathologies. In line with the increase of tooth decay in the Neolithic - because of diet change in this historic transition phase - several carious lesions were found, one of which penetrated into the dental pulp. In accordance with the Icemans troubled life, as several injuries on his body and his violent death attest, mechanical trauma of one of his upper front teeth is evident. Finally, the poor periodontal condition of the Icemans dentition (e.g. loss of alveolar bone), indicative of periodontitis, was assessed. These oral pathological findings in the Icemans dentition provide a unique glimpse into the evolutionary history of oral conditions.
Evolutionary medicine, which was formalized in the early 1990s, investigates evolutionary causes of recent human disease, disorders and malfunctions but also the influence of changing living conditions and modernization on health and disease. Evolutionary medicine can also provide insights into endocrinological disorders and in particular in the process of female reproductive senescence. Female reproductive senescence, i.e. menopausal transition is physiologically caused by the decline of estrogen secretion, which is associated with various somatic and psychic discomforts making this stage of life extremely uncomfortable. From the viewpoint of evolutionary medicine, these menopausal symptoms are the result from the sudden decrease of very high lifetime estrogen levels to zero during postmenopause, a situation which is quite new in our evolution and history. While women in recent developed countries experience menarche early, menopause late, few pregnancies, short periods of lactation and consequently low life time estrogen levels. The opposite is true of women living in traditional societies, whose living conditions may be interpreted as a mirror of the situation in our history. From this viewpoint we can conclude that menopausal symptoms may are the result of a mismatch between female reproductive physiology and recent living conditions.
Ancient Egyptian and Peruvian mummies are extremely valuable historical remains, and noninvasive methods for their examination are desirable. The current standard of reference for radiologic imaging of mummies is computed tomography (CT), with tissue having a homogeneous appearance on all CT images. It was long believed that ancient mummified tissue could not be studied with magnetic resonance (MR) imaging because of the low water content in mummies. Recently, however, the usefulness of MR imaging in the evaluation of mummified tissue was demonstrated for the first time, with use of a special ultrashort echo time technique. The authors of the present study acquired and analyzed MR imaging and CT data from the left hands of two ancient Egyptian mummies and the head of a third Egyptian mummy (ca 1500-1100 bce), as well as data from an ancient Peruvian mummy (ca 1100 ce). CT was found to provide superior detail of the anatomic structures, mainly because of its higher spatial resolution. The signal intensity of mummified tissue varied greatly on MR images; thus, the quality of these images is not yet comparable to that of clinical MR images, and further research will be needed to determine the full capacity of MR imaging in this setting. Nevertheless, additional information may theoretically be obtained with MR imaging, which should be viewed as complementary to, rather than a replacement for, CT.
In three to five percent of active cases of tuberculosis, skeletal lesions develop. Typically, these occur on the vertebrae and are destructive in nature. In this paper, we examined cases of skeletal tuberculosis from a skeletal collection (Galler Collection) with focus on the manifestation of bony changes due to tuberculosis in various body regions in association with antibiotic introduction. This skeletal collection was created in 1925-1977 by a pathologist at the University Hospital in Zürich, Ernst Galler. It includes the remains of 2426 individuals with documented clinical histories as well as autopsies. It contained 29 cases of skeletal tuberculosis lesions. We observed natural healing of vertebral lesions through several processes including fusion of vertebrae, bone deposition and fusion of posterior elements. In these cases, we observed a higher frequency and proportion of bone deposition and fusion of posterior vertebral elements where pharmacological agents were used. There were also four cases of artificial healing through surgically induced posterior spinal fusion. With the introduction of pharmaceutical treatments, the number of individuals with multiple tuberculous foci decreased from 80% to 25% when compared to individuals who did not receive any drug therapy. Investigation of comorbidities showed that pneumonia, pleuritis and being underweight were consistently present, even with pharmaceutical treatment. Our results have applications in palaeopathological diagnoses where healing and consequent bone deposition may complicate differential diagnoses.
In 1835, Edouard Mallet published a notable but today nearly forgotten study of the average height of Genevan conscripts. His individual data included 3029 conscripts born between 1805 and 1814, examined and measured between 1826 and 1835. Mallets work was only the third auxological study to be based on a large sample of individual conscript data, the other two being those of Louis-René Villermé and Adolphe Quetelet, but as far as we know Mallets was the first to note the law of normal distribution. Like Villermé and Quetelet, Mallet explained urban/rural and international differences in average height strictly in terms of environmental and economic determinants. In the recent past, references to Mallets work have been rare, and limited to citations of his computed averages. We postulate that Mallet and his study deserve greater consideration for their contribution to the field of anthropometric history than they have yet received.
The occurrence of transverse radiopaque lines in long bones-Harris lines (HLs)-is correlated with episodes of temporary arrest of longitudinal growth and has been used as an indicator of health and nutritional status of modern and historical populations. However, the interpretation of HLs as a stress indicator remains debatable. The aim of this article is to evaluate the perspectives and the limitations of HLs analyses and to examine their reliability as a stress indicator.
Differentiation of ancient tissues is of key importance in the study of paleopathology and in the evolution of human diseases. Currently, the number of imaging facilities for the non-destructive discrimination of dehydrated tissue is limited, and little is known about the role that emerging imaging technologies may play in this field. Therefore, this study investigated the feasibility and quality of dual-energy computed tomography (DECT) for the discrimination of dry and brittle soft tissue. Moreover, this study explored the relationship between morphological changes and image contrast in ancient tissue by using X-ray micro-tomography (micro-CT).
Pelvic fractures are considered to be uncommon and difficult to treat, even in the modern medical literature. Serious and eventually life-threatening associated injuries may occur, requiring emergency abdominal, vascular or neurologic surgery. Pelvic fractures can also be managed non-operatively; however, a considerable dispute exists on the suitable management strategy. The treatment and healing of such injuries in the bioarchaeological record, is therefore of great interest for anthropological and medico-historical studies. Fractures of the pelvis are rarely reported in the anthropological literature either due to poor preservation of the innominate bone or lack of adequate examination. Here we present two cases of pelvic fractures observed on two adult male individuals from two European medieval sites. They differ in severity and in the pattern of healing. They are both adequately healed and probably had no acute life-threatening consequences, which gives us some insight into the medical knowledge and means of management of past populations.
Previous studies on the prevalence of spina bifida occulta have indicated a microevolutionary increase in its frequency and possible population differences in the prevalence of the condition. We studied the frequencies of closed and open sacral canals at each sacral level among two birth cohorts in Switzerland. Transverse CT scans and multiplanar reconstruction images of sacra of 95 males and 96 females born in 1940-1950 and 99 males and 94 females born in 1970-1980 in Switzerland were reviewed. We found that individuals born later have significantly more open sacral arches at all sacral levels compared to those born 30-40 years earlier. When results were related to previously published data on Australian cohorts, the trend was the same, but Swiss in both cohorts were less likely to have an open section than Australians at all locations apart from S2. This study confirmed a microevolutionary trend in the opening of sacral canal among two different generations in Switzerland and demonstrated a population difference in the prevalence of spina bifida occulta.
Ancient mummified soft-tissues are a unique source to study the evolution of disease. Diagnostic imaging of such historic tissues is of foremost interest in paleoanthropology or paleopathology, with conventional x-ray and computed tomography (CT) being the gold-standard. Longer wavelength radiation in the far-infrared or Terahertz region allows diagnostic close-to-surface tissue differentiation of bone morphology while being harmless to human cells. The aim of this study is to show the feasibility and the morpho-diagnostic impact of THz imaging of historic remains. Images of an artificially embalmed ancient Egyptian human mummy hand, an artificially embalmed ancient Egyptian mummified fish and a macerated human lumbar vertebra were obtained by THz-pulse imaging and compared with conventional X-ray and CT images. Although conventional x-ray imaging provides higher spatial resolution, we found that THz-imaging is well-suited for the investigation of ancient mummified soft tissue and embalming-related substances / wrappings. In particular, bone and cartilaginous structures can be well differentiated from surrounding soft-tissues and bandage-wrappings by THz imaging. Furthermore, THz-pulse imaging also measures the time-delay of the pulsed signal when passing through the sample, which provides supplementary information on the optical density of the sample that is not obtained by X-ray and CT. Terahertz radiation provides a completely non-invasive diagnostic imaging modality for historic dry specimens. We anticipate this modality also to be used for detection of hidden objects in historic samples such as funerary amulets still in situ in wrapped mummies, as well as potentially for the identification of spectral signatures from chemical substances, e.g., in embalming essences.
The left tibia of Charlemagne, the Medieval "Father of Europe" has been X-rayed and CT scanned to determine his still highly debated stature. We found the healthy bone to be long (430 mm) but rather not robust (total mid-shaft cross-sectional area 473 mm(2), cortical area 352 mm(2)). Reconstructed stature of 1.84 m falls at about 99% of Medieval heights, which would be ca. 1.95 m in present-day Europe. Thus, tall stature indeed could have contributed to the success of "Charles the Great" as a king emperor and soldier.
Cerebral tissues from archaeological human remains are extremely rare findings. Hereby, we report a multidisciplinary study of a unique case of a left cerebral hemisphere from a 13th century AD child, found in north-western France. The cerebral tissue-reduced by ca. 80% of its original weight-had been fixed in formalin since its discovery. However, it fully retained its gross anatomical characteristics such as sulci, and gyri; the frontal, temporal and occipital lobe as well as grey and white matter could be readily recognised. Neuronal remains near the hippocampus area and Nissl bodies from the motor cortex area were observed (Nissl, Klüver-Barrera staining). Also, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (T1, proton density, ultra short echo time sequences) were feasible. They produced high quality morpho-diagnostic images. Both histological and radiological examinations could not confirm the pathologists previously suggested diagnosis of cerebral haemorrhage as the cause of death. Reproducible cloned mtDNA sequences were recovered from the skeleton but not from the brain itself. This was most likely due to the combined effect of formaldehyde driven DNA-DNA and/or DNA-protein cross-linking, plus hydrolytic fragmentation of the DNA. The chemical profile of the brain tissue, from gas-chromatography/mass-spectroscopy analysis, suggested adipocerous formation as the main aetiology of the mummification process. The hereby presented child brain is a unique paleo-case of well-preserved neuronal cellular tissue, which is a conditio sine qua non for any subsequent study addressing wider perspectives in neuroscience research, such as the evolution of brain morphology and pathology.
The foramen magnum is an important landmark of the skull base and is of particular interest for anthropology, anatomy, forensic medicine, and other medical fields. Despite its importance, few osteometric studies of the foramen magnum have been published so far. A total of 110 transverse and 111 sagittal diameters from Central European male and female dry specimens dating from the Pleistocene to modern times were measured, and related to sex, age, stature, ethnicity, and a possible secular trend. Only a moderate positive correlation between the transverse and the sagittal diameter of the foramen magnum was found. Surprisingly, neither sexual dimorphism, individual age-dependency, nor a secular trend was found for either diameter. Furthermore, the relationship between the individual stature and foramen magnum diameters was weak: thus foramen magnum size cannot be used as reliable indicator for stature estimation. Further consideration of possible factors influencing the variability of human foramen magnum size shall be explored in larger and geographically more diverse samples, thus serving forensic, clinical, anatomical, and anthropological interests in this body part.
Computer tomography scans were used to asses the opening of the sacral canal.
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