, Volume 93, Issue 11, pp 557-564

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

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Abstract

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.