The skeleton of Cro-Magnon 1, a male Homo sapiens dating back 28,000 years, was discovered in 1868 in the Eyzies cave in France’s southwestern Dordogne region.
To mark 150 years since the discovery of the bones, a team of researchers including anthropologist Philippe Charlier re-examined the remains.
At the end of their investigation, “we proposed a new diagnosis: he had suffered from a type of neurofibromatosis,” said Charlier.
Neurofibromatosis is a genetic disease which can cause benign tumours to develop in the nervous system, and also spots or areas of pigmentation on the skin.
The team’s findings were published on Friday in the medical journal The Lancet.
Cro-Magnon man’s skull “has a lesion on the forehead which corresponds to the presence of a neurofibroma (a benign nerve sheath tumor)” which has eroded the bone, Charlier said.
“His left ear canal was also damaged, presumably also by a tumour that had grown,” he added.
Equipped with this diagnosis, “we have made a realistic reconstruction of the face of this middle-aged man, taking into account his pathology”.
The visual forensic reconstruction shows a face covered in tumours, including a large one on the forehead and scores more little nodules across his face, in particular clustered around the mouth, nose and eyes.
“He has them everywhere,” Charlier said.