The remains of a man buried 3,800 years ago in a richly decorated California grave bear some unusual but unmistakable features — a protruding brow, a lantern jaw, thick leg and arm bones, and teeth so crowded together that at one point they erupt in rows three deep.
According to a new study of the ancient skeleton, they are signs of acromegaly, a rare disorder of the endocrine system that’s similar to gigantism.
The California man is among the very few examples of acromegaly ever found in the archaeological record, and it’s the oldest ever identified, according to Dr. Eric Bartelink, a physical anthropologist at California State University, Chico.
“It is the earliest evidence of this condition in humans, the only documented case from prehistoric California, [and] one of the more complete skeletons documented with this condition,” he said in an interview.
Acromegaly has only been identified definitively at two other archaeological sites in North America, Bartelink said: in the remains of a male buried in New Mexico about 600 years ago, and an unsexed 1,100-year-old skull found in Illinois.