Centre for Evolutionary Medicine, Universität Zürich
Friday 10:30-10:45, Grand Ballroom II
Back problems are omnipresent in modern humans and cause enormous health costs. This is often thought to be founded in the increasingly sedentary lifestyle of industrialized populations as well as in our upright, bipedal locomotion that places huge mechanical demands on the vertebral column. Little is known, however, of this situation during the course of human evolution. Here we analyse the lumbar spine of the Homo erectus boy skeleton KNM-WT 15000 from Nariokotome, Kenya. We identified facet joint subluxation at L4/5, but we found no evidence for scoliosis. This implies a chronic disc pathology that might have caused disabling backache and sciatica. This is unexpected at the juvenile age of KNM-WT 15000. In contrast to adults, important risk factors for disc lesions in adolescents are the pubertal growth spurt and trauma. Our results suggest that the lifestyle of Homo erectus was physically very demanding and /or their vertebral column was not as adapted to bipedal locomotion as that of modern humans.
This study was supported by the University of Zürich and the A.H. Schultz Foundation.