3,200-year-old skeleton shows trace of cancer


Archaeologists have found the 3,200-year-old skeleton of a man with a spreading form of cancer, the oldest example so far of a disease often associated with modern lifestyles, scientists said Monday.

The remains of a man believed to be between the ages of 25 and 35 were found last year in a tomb in Sudan on the banks of the Nile by a student at Durham University in northeast England.

The bones showed evidence of metastatic carcinoma, or a malignant soft tumor cancer that had spread from the original site to other parts of the body, although it was not possible to say if he died from the disease.

“This may help us to understand the almost unknown history of the disease. We have very few examples pre the first millennium A.D.,” said Michaela Binder, the researcher who found the skeleton.

Small lesions on the bones could only have been caused by a soft tissue cancer, although the exact site where the disease originated was impossible to determine, she said.

The cause could have been genetic or from the parasite schistosomiasis, which still causes bladder and breast cancer to this day in the area, or environmental — possibly due to carcinogens from wood fire smoke.

The research team from Durham University and the British Museum said that although cancer is currently one of the world’s leading causes of death, it had until now been almost absent from archaeological finds.