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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Charlotte Roberts

Hunt, K, Roberts, CA & Kirkpatrick, C (2018). Taking Stock: A systematic review of archaeological evidence of cancers in human and early hominin remains. International journal of paleopathology 21: 12-26.

Author(s) from Durham


This study summarizes data from 154 paleopathological studies documenting 272 archaeologically recovered individuals exhibiting skeletal or soft tissue evidence of cancer (malignant neoplastic disease) between 1.8 million years ago and 1900 CE. The paper reviews and summarizes the temporal, spatial and demographic distribution of the evidence and the methods used to provide the cancer diagnoses. Metastasis to bone is the most widely reported evidence (n = 161), followed by multiple myeloma (n = 55). In the dataset, males were represented more than females (M = 127, F = 94), and middle-adults (35–49) and old-adults (50+) were represented most among age groups (MA = 77, OA = 66). The majority of the evidence comes from Northern Europe (n = 51) and Northern Africa (n = 46). The data are summarized in the Cancer Research in Ancient Bodies (CRAB) Database, a growing online resource for future paleo-oncological research. This systematic review contributes to broader studies of malignant neoplastic disease in antiquity; it provides an overview of paleo-oncological data, discusses the many practical and methodological challenges of paleo-oncological research, and dispels presumptions about cancer’s rarity in the past.