Tumors

Tumors of the skeleton are classified on the basis of whether they arise in bone (primary) or invade bone from another tissue (secondary, malignant, or metastatic). Most of the primary bone tumors seen in archeological human skeletons are benign. Some primary benign tumors of bone, such as osteomas, are well known in archeological skeletons; other benign tumors, such as cartilaginous exostoses (Figure V.1.5), are less common but have been reported (e.g., Ortner and Putschar 1981). These benign tumors generally have minimal medical or biological significance.

Primary malignant tumors are uncommon in archeological skeletons and tend to occur in children and adolescents. The Celtic warrior (800-600 B.C.) from Switzerland with osteosarcoma or chondro-

Figure V.1.5. Benign tumor (cartilaginous exostosis) in the area of fusion between the pubic and iliac bones of a right innominate bone. Adult female from the Twelfth Dynasty (c. 1990 B.C.) Rock Tombs, Lisht, Egypt. (Catalog no. 256474, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.)

sarcoma of the humerus (Figure V.1.6) has been reported in several publications (e.g., Ortner and Putschar 1981). Secondary (metastatic) tumors of bone are more common than primary malignant tumors. However, because this type of tumor occurs most frequently in people over 50 years of age, it is also an archeological rarity. Until very recently in human history, few people lived long enough to acquire secondary tumors of bone.

Because tumors are so rare in archeological specimens, any statement on prevalence associated with geographic areas or time periods is likely to be

Figure V.1.6. Malignant tumor (osteosarcoma or chondrosarcoma) of the proximal left humerus of a Celtic warrior (c. 800-600 B.C.) from an archeological site near M√ľnsingen, Bern, Switzerland. Each alternating band equals 1 centimeter. (Catalog no. A95, Natural History Museum, Bern, Switzerland.)

highly problematic. At present our data consist of case reports and surveys such as that provided by J. Gladykowska-Rzeczycka (1991) for tumors in European material. However, it seems reasonable to assume that carcinogens have been a problem for a long time. As previously mentioned, Wells (1964b) suggests that nasopharyngeal tumors seen in archeological human skeletons are associated with the open fires that have existed in human societies for millennia.

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