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Left femur of extinct elephant, Alaska, Ice Age

Disease has a very long history on Earth. From an extinct species of elephant – possibly a mammoth – this long leg bone measuring just under a metre shows two bone cysts. The bone dates from the Pleistocene Ice Age (11,500 to 1.8 million years ago). The bone was originally in the collection of Roy Moodie (1880-1934), an American paleopathologist who studied prehistoric disease.

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Glossary: cyst

An enclosed sac that is filled with liquid or semi-solid matter.

Glossary: bone

The very hard and dense connective tissues that join to form the skeleton. Made of collagen fibres and bone salts.

Glossary: femur

The thigh bone. It is the longest bone in the human body.