The Pathological People of Dolní Věstonice and Pleistocene Human Abnormalities

Erik Trinkaus


10.5817/CZ.MUNI.M210-7781-2015-11

TRINKAUS, Erik. The Pathological People of Dolní Věstonice and Pleistocene Human Abnormalities. In: Sandra SÁZELOVÁ, Martin NOVÁK and Alena MIZEROVÁ (eds.). Forgotten times and spaces: New perspectives in paleoanthropological, paleoetnological and archeological studies. 1st Edition. Brno: Institute of Archeology of the Czech Academy of Sciences; Masaryk University, 2015, pp. 123-131. ISBN 978-80-7524-000-2; 978-80-210-7781-2. DOI: 10.5817/CZ.MUNI.M210-7781-2015-11.


Abstract

The Pavlovian sites have yielded several individuals (Dolní Věstonice 3, 11/12, 15, 16) with severe developmental and/or degenerative abnormalities, and they served to focus attention on the high frequency of pathological specimens among Upper Paleolithic burials. A more extensive survey of Pleistocene Homo, remains, in the light of the ongoing paleopathology of the human fossil record, documents that serious lesions are surprisingly common among the modest number of known Pleistocene human remains. They include congenital disorders, developmental disruptions, serious trauma, and systemic degenerations. Most abnormalities have secure diagnoses, but several do not appear to have modern equivalents. Although the high frequency of such individuals in the Upper Paleolithic may be due in part to the differential burial of the unusual, their presence throughout the Pleistocene suggests small, demographically unstable and inbred populations, albeit with long-term survival of serious afflictions.

Keywords

Upper Paleolithic, paleopathology, developmental abnormalities, degenerative processes, ambiguous abnormalities

Résumé

Les sites pavloviens de Dolní Věstonice et Pavlov ont livré plusieurs restes humains (Dolní Věstonice 3, 11/12, 15, 16) présentant des anomalies du développement et/ou des anomalies dégénératives graves, et ils ont attiré l'attention sur la fréquence élevée de spécimens pathologiques dans les sépultures du Paléolithique supérieur. Une étude plus vaste des restes d’Homo au Pléistocène, à la lumière des études en cours sur la paléopathologie des fossiles humains, documente le fait que les lésions graves sont étonnamment courantes au sein du modeste échantillon de restes humains connus du Pléistocène. Ces lésions comprennent les malformations congénitales, les perturbations du développement, les traumatismes graves et les dégénérescences systémiques. La plupart de ces anomalies sont diagnostiquées avec sureté, mais plusieurs d’entre elles ne semblent pas avoir d’équivalents modernes. La fréquence élevée de ces individus présentant des pathologies au Paléolithique supérieur peut être en partie due à l’inhumation différentielle d’individus « inhabituels ». Leur existence attestée tout au long du Pléistocène suggère des populations de petites dimensions, démographiquement instables et présentant de consanguinité, qui permettaient à long terme la survie des individus aux maladies graves.

Zusammenfassung

Die Pawlowschen Ausgrabungsstätten enthielten mehrere Individuen (Dolní Věstonice 3, 11/12, 15, 16) mit schweren Entwicklungsstörungen und/oder degenerativen Erkrankungen und diese lenken die Aufmerksamkeit auf die hohe Zahl von Jungpaläolithikern mit pathologischen Veränderungen. Ein umfangreicherer Überblick der pleistozänen Homo-Überreste im Rahmen der paläopathologischen Erforschung menschlicher Fossilfunde zeigt, dass unter der bescheidenen Anzahl von bekannten pleistozänen menschlichen Fossilresten ernsthafte Läsionen erstaunlich häufig vorkommen. Die Liste umfasst kongenitale Anomalien, Entwicklungsstörungen, schwere Traumata und systemische Degenerationen. Viele Erkrankungen haben gesicherte Diagnosen, aber bei einigen scheinen moderne Entsprechungen zu fehlen. Es wäre möglich, dass die hohe Zahl von Personen mit krankhaften Veränderungen im Jungpaläolithikum auf einer bevorzugten Bestattug von ungewöhnlichen Individuen beruht, ihre Präsenz während des gesamten Pleistozäns lässt jedoch vermuten, dass kleine, demographisch instabile und nahe verwandte Populationen vorlagen, die aber gute Langzeitüberlebenschancen für Schwererkrankte boten.

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