Original Article


, Volume 93, Issue 11, pp 557-564

First online:

Hyperdisease in the late Pleistocene: validation of an early 20th century hypothesis

  • Bruce M. RothschildAffiliated withArthritis Center of Northeast OhioNortheastern Ohio Universities College of MedicineCarnegie Museum of Natural HistoryUniversity of Kansas Museum of Natural History Email author 
  • , Richard LaubAffiliated withBuffalo Museum of Science

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The hypothesis of disease-related large mammal extinction has new support. A unique pathologic zone of resorption was first noticed in a Hiscock Mammut americanum metacarpal. The pathognomonic zone of resorption was present in fifty-nine (52%) of 113 skeletons with feet available for examination. Metacarpals and metatarsals were most commonly affected. Associated rib periosteal reaction is highly suggestive of tuberculosis and the foot lesions were identical to that documented in Bison as pathognomonic for tuberculosis. Recognizing that only a portion of animals infected by infectious tuberculosis develop bone involvement, the high frequency of the pathology in M. americanum suggests that tuberculosis was not simply endemic, but actually pandemic, a hyperdisease. Pandemic tuberculosis was one of several probable factors contributing to mastodon extinction.


Tuberculosis Hyperdisease Mastodon Pleistocene Erosive disease Bison Infection