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Oldest Known Case Of Down Syndrome Offers Insights

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The skeleton of the earliest known case of Down syndrome is offering clues about how ancient communities looked at those with the chromosomal disorder, researchers say. (International Journal of Paleopathology)

The skeleton of the earliest known case of Down syndrome is offering clues about how ancient communities looked at those with the chromosomal disorder, researchers say. (International Journal of Paleopathology)

Scientists say they’re gaining an understanding of how ancient people treated those with Down syndrome after unearthing the remains of a 1,500-year-old skeleton with features of the disorder.

The finding reported in the International Journal of Paleopathology represents what’s believed to be the earliest and youngest case of Down syndrome ever found.

Researchers say the skeleton is that of a child between the ages of 5 and 7 dating back to the 5th or 6th century A.D.

Buried among 94 people in northeastern France, the child’s skull exhibits features common among those with Down syndrome including thinner cranial bones, a flattened base and a short height.

The remains referred to by researchers as the Saint-Jean-des-Vignes child were buried in the same manner as others discovered at the same site who were typically developing, the case study said. Accordingly, researchers indicated that individuals with Down syndrome were likely treated no different in the ancient society.

“The Saint-Jean-des-Vignes child enables us to infer that this Down syndrome child was not treated differently at death than others in the community,” wrote Maïté Rivollat of the Université de Bordeaux and her colleagues. “We interpret this as meaning that the child was maybe not stigmatized during life, the first time a Down syndrome individual has been so viewed in the context of the ancient community.”

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