Top Ten Historical Health and Medical Discoveries of 2015
When ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten ordered the construction of the new city of Amarna dedicated to the sun god Aten, more than 20,000 people moved there to do the back-breaking work. The work was so strenuous that it resulted in numerous broken bones, including many fractured spinal bones, said a study by archaeologists who examined skeletal remains from a commoners’ cemetery at Amarna.
The team only examined skeletons with more than 50 percent of the bones remaining and found that in addition to probably work-related fractures and degenerative joint disease, they also had smaller-than-average stature suggesting lifelong malnutrition and other hardships.
Amarna was built around 1330 BC as a place where Aten alone could be worshiped. The authors said the city of Amarna was built quickly, in part because of introduction of a standardized limestone building block. The weight of this block was about 70 kilograms (154 pounds). The workers carried the blocks production-line style, handing stones down the line to the next person in line. The authors speculate that these heavy blocks caused many of the bad injuries, including degenerative joint disease and fractures, in the Amarna workers.
Researchers are undoubtedly smiling over a 14,000-years-old tooth that revealed the oldest known dentistry techniques, dating back to the Late Upper Paleolithic (between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago). The infected tooth was found to have been partially cleaned with flint tools, marking an important development in the history of prehistoric dental surgery treatments.
The Paleolithic patient’s well-preserved skeleton was found in northern Italy in 1988, and it revealed he was a young man when he died, in his mid-twenties. The skeletal remains were between 13,820 and 14,160 years old.
An international team of researchers, headed by Stefano Benazzi, paleoanthropologist at the University of Bologna, examined the remarkable find, which represents the oldest archaeological example of dental surgery on an identifiable condition.
A mummy uncovered at the ancient site of Cusco in Peru surprised scientists with what was contained in its gut. Genes linked to antibiotic resistance have been found in the Pre-Columbian mummy’s colon. These gene mutations occurred naturally, long before the introduction of modern medical antibiotics.
The mummy, identified as a woman who was between 18 and 23 years old at the time of her death, had been brought to Italy in the late 19th century, where it was donated to a museum and housed with 11 other mummies.
Many of the antibiotic-resistant genes found in the ancient woman’s remains would have made treatment with modern antibiotics ineffective. These gene mutations are thought to have “occurred naturally in 1,000-year-old bacteria and are not necessarily linked to the overuse of antibiotics.”
While experts call for reduced antibiotic use, they’re also looking for sources of new antibiotics that we have not yet developed resistances to. It is hoped that identification of antibiotic resistance genes in ancient humans, such as found in the 11th century Peruvian mummy, may give an understanding of diseases and treatments, and help in this search.
Evoking visions of mad scientists, French researchers are set to revive a mega-virus dormant for 30,000 years that they discovered in the permafrost of the Russian Arctic.
The French scientists, who awakened another Siberian virus, known as Pithovirus sibericum, in a petri dish in the lab in 2013, warn that climate change may awaken dangerous viruses in areas of the far north where soil or permafrost is melting and believe it is better to ‘know the enemy’. They found it near the same area as the latest discovery, which they named Mollivirus sibericum.
This is the fourth prehistoric virus found since 2003. Perhaps the most ground-breaking aspect of the research from 2013 and 2015 is the fact that these Siberian viruses don’t resemble any other virus known on Earth. Modern viruses are tiny and have only a few genes. But Pithovirus sibericum and Mollivirus sibericum contain 500 genes, placing it in a new category of viral giant, a family known as Megaviridae. “Sixty percent of its gene content doesn’t resemble anything on Earth,” said researcher Chantal Abergel.
This year, researchers found blood cells in the famous 5,300-year-old mummy found by hikers in the Austrian Alps years ago. Ötzi the Iceman’s blood is now the oldest known to science.