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.
Citation: Domínguez-Rodrigo M, Pickering TR, Diez-Martín F, Mabulla A, Musiba C, Trancho G, et al. (2012) Earliest Porotic Hyperostosis on a 1.5-Million-Year-Old Hominin, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46414. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0046414
Editor: Fred H. Smith, Illinois State University, United States of America
Received: July 6, 2012; Accepted: August 29, 2012; Published: October 3, 2012
Copyright: © Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: Funding provided by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation through the project I+D HAR2010-18952-C02-01 and from the Ministry of Culture through the Archaeological Projects Abroad program. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
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 , . 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 . Porotic hyperostosis has been observed rarely on the bones of modern human foragers  on only a few Middle (KNM-ES 11693) and Upper Pleistocene (Villabruna 1; Magdalenian) fossils of early Homo sapiens , , and never before on the fossils of hominins from the early Pleistocene record.
The inset shows the current excavations at the site.
The exact relationship of porotic hyperostosis to various anemias is debated , – 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 . Such an etiology fits with observations of OH 81, which consists of two refitting pieces of the