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Meeting a paleopathologist

posted 21 Aug 2014, 23:09 by Sandra Kirby
I am in Dunedin for the New Zealand Rheumatology conference - not quite my annual highlight, but annual event none-the-less.  Conference moves around the country so not always is it Dunedin. The conference is usually very dry with  exciting paper titles such as Criterion-concurrent validity of spinal mobility tests in ankylosing spondylitis.  
However the title that said "Searching for the origins of metabolic syndrome in the Pacific Islands" gave no indication that it would in fact open my eyes to a whole new world - actually an old world.

The speaker introduced herself as a Paleopathologist - one who studies ancient suffering (paleo- ancient; pathology - suffering) more precisely study of ancient diseases or disease origins through use of mummies, skeletal remains and ancient DNA.  Kind of like House with Bones in archaeology.

So Hallie Buckley - who is quite famous in the archaeology world - talked about the migration of people into near Oceania and then remote  Oceania - New Zealand being the remotest part of remote Oceania and therefore the last to be settled.  Apparently it is becoming increasingly clear that much of the Pacific was settled by people who came from Taiwan- Borneo - Fiji- other Pacific nations.  The exception appears to be Australia.  There seems to be signs that aborigines were living in Australia from earlier and earlier dates - certainly thousands of years prior to the Oceania migrations.

There are two major archaeological sites that are of relevance for New Zealand settlement - these are Lapita in Vanuatu and the Wairau Bar near Blenheim.  The Lapita people appear to be the earliest settlers in the Pacific and the bones of the people in the Wairau Bar have strong genetic links to the Lapita.

Among the many interesting parts of last nights presentation was that these skeletal remains show strong signs that the people died with chronic arthritis - particularly forms of ankylosing spondylitis and gout.  Despite some challenges around food collection it also appears that these people were on the larger side of skinny - not tall but broad.

From what was described yesterday as the Riviera of the Antarctic and one of the remotest parts of remote Oceania I send my good wishes.  And I am pretty sure paleopathologist is another one of those careers that doesn't crop up in the secondary school careers advisers manual.
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