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Unearthed Roman skeleton reveals otherworldly surprise

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 28th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

In a perplexing archaeological find, researchers have discovered the body of a Roman woman with a tumor in her pelvis embedded with four deformed teeth. Scientists say that the 30-something woman, interred in a necropolis near Lleida, in the Catalonia region of Spain, died some 1,600 years ago.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A condition known to doctors as an ovarian teratoma, a Greek-derived term which means a "monster swelling in the ovaries," is what the woman suffered from.

Such tumors stem from mutations of the germ cells which form human eggs and have the potential to create hair, teeth and bone . or even more complex organs, like eyes.

The discovery marks the first time that this type of teratoma in human remains dating back to ancient times.

"This is an extraordinary case, not only for its antiquity, but also its identification in the archaeological record," the researchers wrote in a study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology.

Scientists say it's entirely likely that the aberrant tumor, which is about 1.7 inches in diameter at its largest point, never caused the woman any symptoms.

It's also likely that it was the ultimate cause of her untimely death, since "sometimes the development of teratomas results in displacement and functional disturbances of adjacent organs."

The tumor wouldn't have been obvious, however, and researchers admit they can't tell for certain what effect it had on the woman.
 
"We suppose that, at least during a long part of her life, she was completely unaware of this tumor," lead researcher Nķria Armentano, of the Universitat AutÚnoma de Barcelona says.

Armentano said that "depending on the eventual complications, she could have suffered" but that there is no evidence of that. "She could have died because of many other causes!"

The woman is believed to have lived in a period when the Roman Empire was in sharp decline as barbarian invaders flooded in from the north, eventually overrunning France, Spain and other territories.

Found in a necropolis with only a few artifacts buried with her, tiles known as tegulae had been put over her to give her grave a kind of gabled roof.

"Tegulae graves were the most common Roman burials," Armentano says. "She was not an important or rich person. She had a low socio-economic status."

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