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Dwarfism in an adolescent from the Italian late Upper Palaeolithic


There have been numerous reports of pathological conditions in the hominid fossils, but these have only involved trauma or age-related deterioration in the health of otherwise normal individuals1–4. Here we describe a skeleton of a young male from Riparo del Romito in Calabria, dated to the Epi-Gravettian of southern Italy. The preserved skeletal elements show that this individual (Romito 2) had the skull and long-bone morphology consistent with a mesomelic form of dwarfism, most probably the autosomal recessive disorder acromesomelic dysplasia5–8. Generally recognized at birth, persons with acromesomelic dysplasia usually have normal intelligence and are free of serious medical problems. However, growth deficiency is severe (adult height typically is 110–120 cm) and mobility at the elbows is restricted. These physical impairments would have greatly interfered with the individual's participation in subsistence activities and would have been a substantial handicap in a nomadic hunting and gathering group. Thus, besides being the earliest known case of dwarfism in the human record, this skeleton provides evidence of tolerance of, and care for, a severely deformed individual in the Palaeolithic.

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Frayer, D., Horton, W., Macchiarelli, R. et al. Dwarfism in an adolescent from the Italian late Upper Palaeolithic. Nature 330, 60–62 (1987).

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