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Earliest Porotic Hyperostosis on a 1.5-Million-Year-Old Hominin, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

  • Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo ,

    m.dominguez.rodrigo@gmail.com

    Affiliations IDEA (Instituto de Evolución en África), Museo de los Orígenes, Madrid, Spain, Department of Prehistory, Complutense University, Madrid, Spain

  • Travis Rayne Pickering,

    Affiliations Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, United States of America, Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, Plio-Pleistocene Palaeontology Section, Department of Vertebrates, Ditsong National Museum of Natural History (Transvaal Museum), Pretoria, South Africa

  • Fernando Diez-Martín,

    Affiliation Department of Prehistory and Archaeology, University of Valladolid, Valladolid, Spain

  • Audax Mabulla,

    Affiliation Archaeology Unit, University of Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

  • Charles Musiba,

    Affiliation Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado, United States of America

  • Gonzalo Trancho,

    Affiliation Department of Anthropology, Complutense University, Madrid, Spain

  • Enrique Baquedano,

    Affiliations IDEA (Instituto de Evolución en África), Museo de los Orígenes, Madrid, Spain, Museo Arqueológico Regional, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain

  • Henry T. Bunn,

    Affiliation Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, United States of America

  • Doris Barboni,

    Affiliation CEREGE (Centre Européen de Recherche et d'Enseignement des Géosciences de l'Environnement) Aix-Marseille Université (AMU/CNRS/IRD/Collège de France), BP80, Aix-en-Provence, France

  • Manuel Santonja,

    Affiliation CENIEH (Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana), Burgos, Spain

  • David Uribelarrea,

    Affiliation Department of Geodynamics, Complutense University, Madrid, Spain

  • Gail M. Ashley,

    Affiliation Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University, Piscataway, New Jersey, United States of America

  • María del Sol Martínez-Ávila,

    Affiliation Department of Anthropology, Complutense University, Madrid, Spain

  • Rebeca Barba,

    Affiliation IDEA (Instituto de Evolución en África), Museo de los Orígenes, Madrid, Spain

  • Agness Gidna,

    Affiliation IDEA (Instituto de Evolución en África), Museo de los Orígenes, Madrid, Spain

  • José Yravedra,

    Affiliation Department of Prehistory, Complutense University, Madrid, Spain

  •  [ ... ],
  • Carmen Arriaza

    Affiliations IDEA (Instituto de Evolución en África), Museo de los Orígenes, Madrid, Spain, Museo Arqueológico Regional, Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain

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Earliest Porotic Hyperostosis on a 1.5-Million-Year-Old Hominin, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

  • Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, 
  • Travis Rayne Pickering, 
  • Fernando Diez-Martín, 
  • Audax Mabulla, 
  • Charles Musiba, 
  • Gonzalo Trancho, 
  • Enrique Baquedano, 
  • Henry T. Bunn, 
  • Doris Barboni, 
  • Manuel Santonja
PLOS
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Abstract

Meat-eating was an important factor affecting early hominin brain expansion, social organization and geographic movement. Stone tool butchery marks on ungulate fossils in several African archaeological assemblages demonstrate a significant level of carnivory by Pleistocene hominins, but the discovery at Olduvai Gorge of a child's pathological cranial fragments indicates that some hominins probably experienced scarcity of animal foods during various stages of their life histories. The child's parietal fragments, excavated from 1.5-million-year-old sediments, show porotic hyperostosis, a pathology associated with anemia. Nutritional deficiencies, including anemia, are most common at weaning, when children lose passive immunity received through their mothers' milk. Our results suggest, alternatively, that (1) the developmentally disruptive potential of weaning reached far beyond sedentary Holocene food-producing societies and into the early Pleistocene, or that (2) a hominin mother's meat-deficient diet negatively altered the nutritional content of her breast milk to the extent that her nursing child ultimately died from malnourishment. Either way, this discovery highlights that by at least 1.5 million years ago early human physiology was already adapted to a diet that included the regular consumption of meat.

Introduction

We report the discovery of porotic hyperostosis on Olduvai Hominid (OH) 81, two refitting right parietal fragments of a ∼2-year-old child (Hominidae gen. et sp. indet.) from the 1.5-million-year-old (Ma) SHK (Sam Howard Korongo) site, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania (Fig. 1). Porotic hyperostosis is a bone pathology associated with anemia [1], [2]. Cranial bones affected by porotic hyperostosis show thinning or obliteration of the vault's outer table, as well as lesions that seem to emanate from the hypertrophy of the diploë [3]. Porotic hyperostosis has been observed rarely on the bones of modern human foragers [4] on only a few Middle (KNM-ES 11693) and Upper Pleistocene (Villabruna 1; Magdalenian) fossils of early Homo sapiens [5], [6], and never before on the fossils of hominins from the early Pleistocene record.

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Figure 1. Aerial view of Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) with the approximate site of SHK indicated.

The inset shows the current excavations at the site.

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0046414.g001

The exact relationship of porotic hyperostosis to various anemias is debated [1], [6][10] but current research hypothesizes its production in infants and young children through the combined effects of hypoferremia (induced by the ingestion of breast milk depleted in vitamin B12 or loss of access to vitamin B12 through weaning) and gastrointestinal infections [2]. Such an etiology fits with observations of OH 81, which consists of two refitting pieces of the