Found among the bones of around 28 people at a site called Sima de los Huesos – “pit of bones” – in northern Spain, the lumbar spine was reconstructed from fragments discovered by scientists from the Centro Mixto de Evolución Humana in Burgos.
The lumbar spine comes from the same man as a pelvis found in 1994. It is thought he was aged 45, and lived more than half a million years ago.
The way in which the bones developed and the way they changed due to wear and tear show he was likely to have suffered severe back pain.
Dr Gomez-Olivencia said: “It appears that we are looking at the spine of a man who had several different problems, including inversion of the curvature of the back, spondylolisthesis, and Baastrup disease – which are associated with pain today.”
Homo heidelbergensis were nomadic hunter gatherers, relying on animals such as red deer for food, and a damaged spine would have made hunting impossible.
This is not so unusual. With bipedalism comes all sorts of issues with the back. We put an incredible amount of strain on the lower vertebrae, which often causes herniation of the discs. As we get larger and heavier (read: fatter), these get exacerbated.