Researchers had been reexamining the fossilized bones of a Neanderthal who was discovered in a cave close to the French village of La Chapelle-aux-Saints in 1908. The “Old Man of La Chapelle,” as he turned recognized, was the primary comparatively full Neanderthal skeleton to be unearthed and is one of one of the best studied.

More than a century after his discovery, his bones are nonetheless yielding new details about the lives of Neanderthals, the closely constructed Stone Age hominins that lived in Europe and components of Asia earlier than disappearing about 40,000 years in the past.

The man, regarded as in his late 50s or 60s when he died about 50,000 years in the past, had superior osteoarthritis in his spinal column and hip joint, a study from 2019 had confirmed.

However, throughout that reanalysis, Dr. Martin Haeusler — a specialist in inside medication and head of the University of Zurich’s Evolutionary Morphology and Adaptation Group on the Institute of Evolutionary Medicine — realized that not all of the adjustments in the bones may very well be defined by the wear and tear and tear of osteoarthritis.

“Rather, we found that some of these pathological changes must be due to inflammatory processes,” he mentioned.

“A comparison of the entire pattern of the pathological changes found in the La Chapelle-aux-Saints skeleton with many different diseases led us then to the diagnosis of brucellosis.”

The study with these findings was printed in the journal Scientific Reports final month.

Zoonotic disease

Cave chamber closed for 40,000 years could hold the key to the lives of Neanderthals
Brucellosis is a disease that is nonetheless widespread at present. Humans typically purchase the disease by way of direct contact with contaminated animals, by consuming or ingesting contaminated animal merchandise, or by inhaling airborne brokers, in accordance with the World Health Organization. Most circumstances are brought on by unpasteurized milk or cheese from contaminated goats or sheep.

It’s additionally one of the most typical zoonotic ailments — sicknesses which can be transmitted from animals to people. They embody viruses like HIV and the coronavirus that induced the Covid-19 pandemic.

Brucella has a variety of signs, together with fever, muscular ache and night time sweats, Haeusler mentioned. It can final from just a few weeks to many months and even years. Long-term issues ensuing from the disease are variable however can embody arthritis ache, again ache, irritation of the testes — which might result in infertility — and irritation of the guts valves referred to as endocarditis, which Haeusler mentioned was the most typical trigger of demise from the disease.

The paper mentioned the case was “the earliest secure evidence of this zoonotic disease in hominin evolution.”

The disease has additionally been discovered in Bronze Age Homo sapiens skeletons, which date again to round 5,000 years in the past.


Brucellosis is discovered in many wild animals at present, and Haeusler mentioned that the Neanderthal man seemingly caught the disease from butchering or cooking an animal that had been hunted as prey. Possible sources embody wild sheep, goats, wild cattle, bison, reindeer, hares and marmots — all of which had been elements of the Neanderthal food regimen. However, the paper mentioned that the 2 giant animals Neanderthals hunted, mammoths and woolly rhinoceros, had been unlikely to be the disease reservoir — no less than based mostly on the animals’ dwelling relations, in which brucellosis has been largely undetected.

Given the man lived to what should have been a really outdated age for the interval, Haeusler suspected that the Neanderthal could have had a milder model of the disease.

A tiny bone is changing how we think about Neanderthals
The “Old Man of Chapelle” performed a big position in misconceptions about Neanderthals being primitive Stone Age brutes, in accordance to the Smithsonian. More recent research suggests that they were just as smart as we are.

An early reconstruction of the skeleton depicted the man with a slouching posture, bent knees and the pinnacle jutted ahead. It was solely later that scientists realized the skeleton had a deforming type of osteoarthritis and maybe was not a typical Neanderthal.

Haeusler mentioned the research he printed in 2019 confirmed that, even with the wear and tear and tear from degenerative osteoarthritis, the “Old Man of Chapelle” would have walked upright. The man additionally had misplaced most of his tooth and should have needed to have been fed by different members of his group.


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