Osteogenic tumour in Australopithecus sediba: Earliest hominin evidence for neoplastic disease

Patrick S. Randolph-Quinney, Scott A. Williams, Maryna Steyn, Marc R. Meyer, Jacqueline S. Smilg, Steven E. Churchill, Edward J. Odes, Tanya Augustine, Paul Tafforeau, Lee R. Berger

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    We describe the earliest evidence for neoplastic disease in the hominin lineage. This is reported from the type specimen of the extinct hominin Australopithecus sediba from Malapa, South Africa, dated to 1.98 million years ago. The affected individual was male and developmentally equivalent to a human child of 12 to 13 years of age. A penetrating lytic lesion affected the sixth thoracic vertebra. The lesion was macroscopically evaluated and internally imaged through phase-contrast X-ray synchrotron microtomography. A comprehensive differential diagnosis was undertaken based on gross- and micro-morphology of the lesion, leading to a probable diagnosis of osteoid osteoma. These neoplasms are solitary, benign, osteoid and bone-forming tumours, formed from well-vascularised connective tissue within which there is active production of osteoid and woven bone. Tumours of any kind are rare in archaeological populations, and are all but unknown in the hominin record, highlighting the importance of this discovery. The presence of this disease at Malapa predates the earliest evidence of malignant neoplasia in the hominin fossil record by perhaps 200 000 years.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number20150470
    JournalSouth African Journal of Science
    Issue number7-8
    StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


    • Malapa
    • Malignant
    • Neoplasia
    • Osteoma
    • Palaeopathology
    • Taphonomy

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
    • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
    • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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