Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ancient acromegaly

About 3,800 years ago, members of a hunter-gatherer culture known as the Windmiller buried one of their own near what is now Elk Grove, California, U.S. They daubed the 30-something-year-old man's body with red ochre, festooned him with beads, and added other shelf ornaments. But unlike others who were buried face-down with their heads oriented to the west, this man was interred face-up and headed north. His skull did have some unusual features: a protruding brow, a lantern jaw, a protruding chin, and very crowded teeth. Its width and height suggested hypergrowth in adulthood. Physical anthropologist Eric Bartelink of California State University, Chico, has now confirmed his condition to be acromegaly. Unlike gigantism, in which the pituitary gland releases excessive amounts of growth hormone during childhood, acromegaly – a rare endocrine system disorder – doesn't begin until early adulthood. By then the body’s long bones have finished growing, so the exaggerated growth only affects areas like the face, hands, and feet where bone development is still possible. The skeleton is the earliest and one of the most complete to be diagnosed with acromegaly, but Bartelink is unsure from the grave whether the individual had been singled out. I would expect that the person would have been treated differently, but it’s hard to say, The physical expression of the disease takes about 10 years to become fully noticeable, so it would have taken a bit for other members of the society to take notice.”


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