Alexander’s disease spillover discovery in ‘vampire’ Neanderthal

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Alexander died because he ate flesh from roasting carcasses

An ancient case of disease spillover has been discovered in a Neanderthal man who developed unexplained violent attacks and infertility.

Alexander, who died in 10,000 BC, had a finger severed by a sharp stone after eating raw meat.

Three pupils have now also contracted leukaemia – a type of blood cancer – while working in southern Russia on a farm.

The farm is just a few miles from a lykke, an ancient village on a steep slope, where scientists had known that the two diseases might have mingled.

Specialists in both areas agree the central region of southern Russia has shown previously evidence of the tuberculosis infection passed on by the victims of leukaemia.

‘Old contacts’

However, researchers now think Alexander’s entire heredity sequence was affected.

“It’s not the leukaemia gene or the tuberculosis gene [that’s to blame],” said Nikolai Sorokin, a researcher from Geizin State University in the far eastern city of Omsk.

“In these archaic people, no one usually has HIV infection, so our grandchildren can be cured for many years.”

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Researchers believe Alexander was infected in his late 30s or early 40s

Other genetic researchers, however, say there is a stronger case for infection by TB than TB infection in Neanderthals, so more investigations are needed to confirm this.

These challenges illustrate a challenge for our understanding of the archaic era.

These researchers have already confirmed a measles virus was transmitted between Neanderthals and early modern humans, but there has been no evidence of plague.

As a result, scientists are not able to confirm a second, inchoate way diseases that might have evolved to travel between species, or other evidence of disease spillover between ancient groups.

Dr Robert Lambright, from the University of Washington, who co-authored a series of papers on the subject, said that more work is needed.

“We are still seeking to understand the biology of pathogens in archaic populations.

“In order to effectively sequester our research effort, to plough it into the material record, we need to continue to be able to solve these long, open-ended questions.”

Alexander’s was an unusual case, however.

Thought to be the only recorded case of leukaemia transmission in the fossil record, Alexander’s finger was severed during a fight with another man, probably over raw meat.

This led to a rejection of Alexander’s new wife and eventually to his death.

The primary bone-cutting tool used by Alexander’s friend, said to be old enough to have been among the first blood samples found in ancient Russia, is now found at the Red Star War archeological site.

Alexander has been recognised by several environmental, historical and medical organisations as a local celebrity.

He has been awarded with back payments for his services to the community.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Researchers were puzzled to find the bone cutting tool (green arrow) at the archaeological site

Geologists have found the word “zeitgeist” written on stone by hunter-gatherers in central Russia about a decade ago, in one of the earliest known recorded letters.

Although writing has been present in the Siberian taiga for tens of thousands of years, it is believed Alexander was the first Ukrainian tribesman to use the expression.

“It’s been described as the most ancient Ukrainian word with capital letters,” said Dr Sorokin.

There are several sites where archaeologists in Siberia have discovered the limestone letters “zeitgeist” at the base of the Shilovskaya volcano, and further sites on the slopes of the nearby Tarkovsky volcano.

“In some locations, it’s completely non-living humans who mentioned this movement of spirit, but in some cases the first recorded cast from human remains, meaning it was a letter, written by modern humans, passed on those symbols.”

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