Syphilis: New World or Old?

Earlier this month the discovery of a 700 year old skeleton showing signs of congenital syphilis was announced by the Medical University of Vienna. Although this might not sound immediately controversial the skeleton itself comes from St Pölten in Austria and that is unusual because syphilis was thought to have been imported to Europe from... Continue Reading →

Nesting Times – Dinosaur Brood Parasites?

In the great evolutionary arms race to survive, thrive and reproduce many animals cheat. Consider the cuckoo for example. They are famous for laying their eggs in the nests of other birds and in fact this strategy, called brood parasitism, is found in many animal groups from beetles to fish. Its a clever behavior, foistering... Continue Reading →

A Tale of Two Parasites

Parasites are fascinating. We might tend to think of them as cunning free-loaders, slowly sucking the life out of their unsuspecting victims but the truth is often far more nuanced and bizarre. Modern parasites can permanently alter minds, castrate their victims to make them more useful, even replace their host's tongues, all just to get... Continue Reading →

9,000 Year Old Ritual Decapitation

Occasionally in the life of some archaeologists there must come moments when they feel like they are excavating the aftermath of a particularly gruesome horror movie. The recent discovery of a severed head and hands from east-central Brazil is a case in point. The research was performed by an international team, led by researchers from... Continue Reading →

When Is A Disease Not A Disease?

Today we're moving out of the arena of strict palaeopathology and instead we're going to look at something a little different. The topic is evolutionary medicine, which is in part the study of how diseases have evolved and how we have evolved in response. So we'll start with a question: when is a disease not... Continue Reading →

Force-fed Kestrels in Ancient Egypt?

Earlier this month researchers from the American University in Cairo, Stellenbosch University and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies announced the results of an autopsy of a bird, mummified as part of a votive offering to the Gods. Although most such birds were gutted before being buried this particular specimen still had its stomach and... Continue Reading →

Eggs, Fungi and the Death of the Dinosaurs?

Few events in prehistory have attracted as much popular interest as the extinction of the dinosaurs. The disappearance of these iconic beasts has been debated and speculated over pretty much since the first discovery and identification of their bones. Today most researchers agree that the extinction was the result of some global ecological catastrophe, be... Continue Reading →

Oldest Case of Leukemia Discovered

Researchers from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment and the University of Tübingen in Germany announced earlier this month (August 2015) that they have identified the oldest known case of leukemia in the archaeological record. Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow. It causes the patient's body to produce huge numbers of... Continue Reading →

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