A probable case of multiple myeloma from Bronze Age China

Jenna M. Dittmar*, Elizabeth S. Berger, Ruilin Mao, Hui Wang, Hui Yuan Yeh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Paleopathological evidence of cancer from past populations is rare, especially outside of Europe and North Africa. This study expands upon the current temporal and spatial distribution of cancer by presenting a probable case of multiple myeloma from Bronze Age China. Material: The human skeletal remains of an adult male from the Qijia culture horizon (1750−1400 BCE) of the Bronze Age cemetery of Mogou (磨沟), located in Gansu Province, Northwest China. Methods: The human skeletal remains were assessed macroscopically and radiographically using plain x-rays. Results: Multiple ovoid-shaped osteolytic lesions with sharply demarcated margins were observed. The axial skeletal had the greatest involvement, specifically the vertebrae, ribs, and sternum. Radiographic imaging revealed more extensive destruction of cancellous than cortical bone, indicating that the marrow was the focal point of the disease. Conclusion: Based on the nature, distribution, and radiographic appearance of the lesions, the most likely diagnosis is multiple myeloma. Significance: This is one of the only cases of cancer identified in archaeological human skeletal remains from East Asia and is the first published case of a hematopoietic malignancy from mainland China. The analysis and publication of examples of neoplasia from areas that expand upon the current known temporal and spatial distribution is necessary in order to better reconstruct the history and evolution of cancer. Limitations: Poor skeletal preservation prevented the full extent of osteolytic lesions to be observed. Suggestions for future research: By placing case studies such as this into a temporal and spatial framework, it is possible for future research to begin to interrogate possible underlying causes of cancer in ancient populations within the context of changing environmental conditions and subsistence strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-70
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Paleopathology
Early online date19 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding to carry out this research was provided the Centre for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences , Nanyang Technological University , Singapore; Chinese National Social Science Key Project Grant for ‘The Mogou Cemetery Project: Multidisciplinary Research in Gansu Lintan’ (grant number: 18ZDA225 ); Banco Santander through the Santander Mobility Grant scheme at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom; the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan, United States; the Esherick-Ye Family Foundation; the Association for Asian Studies China and Inner Asia Council; and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists Cobb Professional Development Grant program.


  • Cancer
  • Hematopoietic malignancy
  • Mogou
  • Paleo-oncology
  • Qijia culture


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