“Modern medicine tends to assume cancers and tumours in humans are diseases caused by modern lifestyles and environments,” said Edward Odes of the University of Witwatersrand, in remarks quoted by New Scientist.
It’s not known if the cancerous bone belonged to an adult or child. But modern osteosarcoma is known to be most common in children and young adults. It typically occurs in fast-growing bones near the knee. Osteosarcoma was the kind of cancer that killed Marathon of Hope runner Terry Fox.
A 1.98-million-year-old vertebra of an Australopithecus sediba young male was found in a nearby site with evidence of a growth.
The previous oldest example of a benign hominin tumour was believed to date to a fossil rib from a Neanderthal who lived 120,000 years ago in Croatia.
“Tumours of any kind are rare in archeological populations, and are all but unknown in the hominin record, highlighting the importance of this discovery,” an abstract from the South African Journal of Science said.