An abundance of developmental anomalies and abnormalities in Pleistocene people

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Trinkaus, Erik
Year of Publication: 2018
Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Date Published: 2018/11/01
Publication Language: eng

The patterns and incidences of developmental abnormalities and anomalies through Pleistocene human evolution may provide insights into issues of survival, stress, consanguinity, and mortuary behavior among these foraging populations. A synthesis of these developmental variants through the Homo fossil record provides 75 cases from 66 individuals, an exceptional total given the small paleontological samples. These are primarily from the past 200,000 years, given better preservation through burial, but are known from up to 1.5 million years ago. One-third of them have moderately low probabilities (P < 0.05), yet 14% are very rare (P < 0.0001), and 19% have no known etiology. No single factor accounts for the extremely low cumulative probability of finding these abnormalities, but this raises questions concerning the natures of Pleistocene human populations.Diverse developmental abnormalities and anomalous features are evident in the Pleistocene Homo fossil record, varying from minor but rare dental, vertebral, and carpal variants to exceptional systemic disorders. There are currently 75 documented anomalies or abnormalities from 66 individuals, spanning the Pleistocene but primarily from the Late Pleistocene Middle and Upper Paleolithic with their more complete skeletal remains. The expected probabilities of finding these variants or developmental disorders vary from <5% to <0.0001%, based on either recent human incidences or relevant Pleistocene sample distributions. Given the modest sample sizes available for the skeletal or dental elements in question, especially if the samples are appropriately limited in time and geography, the cumulative multiplicative probability of finding these developmental changes is vanishingly small. These data raise questions regarding social survival abilities, differing mortuary treatments of the biologically unusual, the role of ubiquitous stress among these Pleistocene foragers, and their levels of consanguinity. No single factor sufficiently accounts for the elevated level of these developmental variants or the low probability of finding them in the available paleontological record.

Short Title: Proc Natl Acad Sci USA