The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

8,000 year old case of thalassemia from the Windover, Florida skeletal population


Anthropology, Florida State University

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Thalassemia is a congenital blood disorder in which the body destroys red blood cells at a faster rate than they are produced, resulting in anemia. Historically, this disease is found more often in Old World populations, such as Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Southeast Asian depending on the affected globin sequence (alpha or beta). The earliest reported skeletal evidence of thalassemia comes from the eastern Mediterranean (Atlit-Yam) and is correlated with early agriculturist’s exposure to the malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum. While there has been little to no skeletal reports of thalassemia in prehistoric Native American populations, among the individuals from the 8,000 year old hunter-gatherer site of Windover, Florida there is a single potential case of the disease. A 22 year old female (Individual #76) exhibits bilateral foreshortening of the humeri with indications of premature epiphyseal fusion. The proximal aspects of both humeri are medio-laterally compressed, the gleno-humeral joint surfaces exhibit medial deformation, and the internal distribution of bone shows expansion of the medullary cavity with increased cancellous bone growth. These characteristics have been reported as indicators of thalassemia in both clinical and archaeological contexts. Alternate diagnoses such as, congenital dislocation or injuries during child birth are considered but fail to account for the full set of characteristics shown. Individual #76 may represent the oldest reported case of thalassemia from a native North American skeletal population.

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