Exhuming and examining skeletons is one of the easiest ways to learn about the humans of the past. Skeletal evidence can inform archaeologists about the physiology, diet, and even daily activities of our ancestors. Occasionally, these skeletons turn up mysteries which can’t be explained by bones alone. Just last month, a face-down skeleton was found with an odd round stone in its mouth where its tongue should be. Evidence of bacterial infection was found in the mouth, indicating this individual’s tongue was ripped out while he was still alive. Gross.
To add to the strange face-down stone-containing skeleton news, an international team of archaeologists and historians have just announced the discovery of the world’s oldest prostate stones. The researchers were exhuming close to 200 graves the Al Khiday Cemetery in Central Sudan when they unearthed an otherwise healthy male skeleton containing walnut-sized round stones near the pelvic bone.
Upon examination, researchers discovered they were actually massive prostate stones. Due to the sizes of the stones, the individual carrying them must have been subjected to incredible levels of pain and discomfort on a daily basis.
While the discovery of the prostate stones might be slightly gruesome, it has the potential to change current thinking about the medical condition, known as lithiasis. According to the researchers’ publication in PLOS One, this discovery upends the prevailing theory that prostate stones are unique to our time due to the modern diet:
This discovery of the earliest known case of lithiasis extends the appearance of prostatic stones into the Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene, a disease which therefore can no longer be considered exclusive to the modern era, but which also affected prehistoric individuals, whose lifestyle and diet were significantly different to our own.
Italian archaeologist Donatella Usai from the Center for Sudanese and Sub-Saharan Studies claims that such face-down burials were common for this era, but the reasons for them remain a mystery:
The high frequency of prone burials rules out they are deviant burials. It rather suggests a funerary rite with a yet mysterious symbolic meaning.
The ancient Sudanese cemetery where this discovery was made is not far from the site of another mysterious archaeological find last month. At an 11th-century monastery there, researchers found a mass grave containing skeletons which showed signs of mutilation and defleshing. The reason for the unusually mutilated burials remains a mystery.