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Skull Condition Believed to be Extinct Long Ago Still Exists

May 19, 2016 12:16 AM EDT
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Researchers from North Carolina State University and University of Witwatersrand have discovered that a skull condition believed to be extinct is actually still in existence and quite common in the in North America and South Africa.

The skull condition, cribra orbitalia (CO), occurs when the bone inside the eye sockets become porous. At present, there are still no known adverse health effects of CO, but it is widely accepted that CO is caused by iron deficiency. Forensic anthropologists used CO as an indicator of the general health status of past populations.

There are speculations that CO may have disappeared with time, but there are still debates going on regarding its prevalence in modern times.

In order to put a stop in the debates, researchers looked at modern, historic and prehistoric human remains from South Africa, North Carolina and the Western Hemisphere Database.

For the study, a total of 844 skulls consisting of 245 prehistoric, 381 historic (as recent as the early 20th century) and 218 modern were evaluated by the researchers.

The result of their study caught researchers off guard. Their evaluation revealed that 40 percent of modern American juvenile skulls in the study had CO, while 25 percent of the South African juvenile skull had CO.

"We thought we might see some CO, but not to the extent that we did," said Ann Ross, director of the Forensic Sciences Institute at NC State and co-author of the study, in a statement.

What's more shocking about their findings is that the CO is more prevalent in modern times.

A total of12.35 percent of modern North Americans had CO, while their historic and prehistoric counterparts have only 6.25 percent and 11.86 percent respectively.

On the other hand, the percentage of modern South African skull with CO is at 16.8, significantly higher than the 2.23 percent of their historic counterparts.

Their findings were published in the journal Clinical Anatomy.

According to the researchers, the high prevalence of CO in modern skulls may be due to intestinal parasites and iron-poor diet. Their findings also prove that "disadvantaged socioeconomic groups, and parts of the developing world, are still struggling with access to adequate nutrition."

"Corn may give people a full belly, but it's not going to give people all of the nutrients they need to be healthy," explained Ross in the report by Clinical Anatomy.

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