Scientists find world's first disabled, elderly man

Researchers at the Complutense University of Madrid and the Carlos III Institute of Health, who found the remains from a site called Sima de los Huesos in Spain, believe the ancient bones date back to 500,000 years ago.

A prehistoric pelvis, nicknamed "Elvis," and other fossilised bones found from the site are believed to be of an elderly man who lived in Spain and was a member of the species Homo heidelbergensis -- a type of ancient human thought to be exclusive to Europe and ancestral only to Neanderthals.

According to lead author Alejandro Bonmati, modern humans are thought to descend from the Middle Pleistocene African species Homo rhodesiensis. Since that species and Homo heidelbergensis shared a common "grandfather species" around one million years ago, "this (elderly male) individual would belong to our 'uncle' species, meaning he is not ancestral but closely related," Bonmati told Discovery News.

Bonmati and his colleagues unearthed the lower back and pelvis for the aged individual along with some 6,000 other fossils at the site, which was once likely home to numerous humans from the now-extinct species.

Analysis of the fossils indicated that the male Homo heidelbergensis was over 45 years and suffered from a spinal deformity that would have caused him a lot of pain and forced him to stoop over.

Although it was not clear how much older than 45 the man was, the researcher are certain that he was elderly based on his remains. "He possibly used a cane, just as a modern elderly person does," Bonmati said.

"This individual may not have been an active hunter and was impaired to carry heavy loads, thus an important source of his food would depend on other members of the group, which would mean sharing." As a senior, the individual would have had expertise in finding food and more, the researchers suspected, so he must have been a valuable contributor to his group.

As a result, the male may also provide some of the world's first evidence for compassion and cooperation among early humans, they reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We wouldn't say that he was a burden to his group, but rather that this was a greatly socialised group with solidarity bonds between individuals," Bonmati said. Homo heidelbergensis had a large brain and certain anatomy such as a highly developed inner ear, he explained.

These features suggest this species had some form of spoken language that would have helped to bond individuals together. The findings have come on the heels of yet another new study that described the discovered remains of a Neanderthal child with a congenital brain abnormality who was not abandoned, but instead lived until the about age five or six.

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