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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Staff

Publication details for Professor Charlotte Roberts

Binder, M., Roberts, C., Spencer, N., Antoine, D. & Cartwright, C. (2014). On the Antiquity of Cancer: Evidence for Metastatic Carcinoma in a Young Man from Ancient Nubia (c. 1200BC). PLOS One 9(3): 90924.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

Cancer, one of the world’s leading causes of death today, remains almost absent relative to other pathological conditions, in the archaeological record, giving rise to the conclusion that the disease is mainly a product of modern living and increased longevity. This paper presents a male, young-adult individual from the archaeological site of Amara West in northern Sudan (c. 1200BC) displaying multiple, mainly osteolytic, lesions on the vertebrae, ribs, sternum, clavicles, scapulae, pelvis, and humeral and femoral heads. Following radiographic, microscopic and scanning electron microscopic (SEM) imaging of the lesions, and a consideration of differential diagnoses, a diagnosis of metastatic carcinoma secondary to an unknown soft tissue cancer is suggested. This represents the earliest complete example in the world of a human who suffered metastatic cancer to date. The study further draws its strength from modern analytical techniques applied to differential diagnoses and the fact that it is firmly rooted within a well-documented archaeological and historical context, thus providing new insights into the history and antiquity of the disease as well as its underlying causes and progression.