An Analysis Of Prehistoric Bones Unearthed In Hungary In 1932 Revealed That Neanderthals Living In Central Europe Suffered From Tuberculosis Over 35,000 Years Ago

SAndor - - illustrative purposes only

Around 35,000 years ago, Neanderthals living in Central Europe suffered from tuberculosis. The new finding has left scientists wondering whether the disease played a part in the extinction of the species. It was also the first time tuberculosis had ever been identified in Neanderthals.

In December 2023, researchers analyzed the prehistoric bones of two Neanderthals, testing them for the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, which is called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The skeletons were found in a cave in Hungary in 1932.

Subalyuk Cave is located in the Bükk Mountains of northern Hungary. Over the centuries, it was used as a place of shelter by many humans and animals. It is considered to be a significant archaeological site from the Middle to Late Paleolithic Era.

The skeletons were excavated near the cave’s entrance. They belonged to a female adult and a child who was three to four years old at the time of death. Carbon dating showed that the adult had died around 37,000 to 38,000 years ago, while the child died around 33,000 to 34,000 years ago.

Due to the mix of Neanderthal and human features on their bones, researchers concluded that they were among the last Neanderthals to exist in Central Europe. Neanderthals also began going extinct around the time of their deaths.

In addition, evidence of skeletal infection was discovered in both Neanderthals. According to a team of researchers led by György Pálfi at the University of Szeged in Hungary, bony lesions were found along the adult’s spine and on the interior of the child’s skull. These skeletal changes are known as lytic lesions. They are areas where bone has been destroyed, leaving holes in the bones.

Lytic lesions can be the result of a number of diseases, such as cancer. However, their positioning and patterning within the bones of the Subalyuk Neanderthals point to a diagnosis of tuberculosis.

A second research team led by Oona Lee from the University of Birmingham in the U.K. extracted bone samples from the two skeletons and examined them for the presence of M. tuberculosis. They both tested positive.

The researchers also utilized two other techniques to reach their conclusion. One of them was called spoligotyping, a method that detects gene sequences of tuberculosis. The other was lipid biomarker analysis, which is used to determine the source of organic matter in a sample.

SAndor – – illustrative purposes only

Sign up for Chip Chick’s newsletter and get stories like this delivered to your inbox.

1 of 2