Oldest Case of Down Syndrome Discovered in 1,500-Year-Old Skeleton

The burial suggests the child was not stigmatized, researchers say.

July 12, 2014, 6:31 AM

— -- A 1,500-year-old skeleton has shed new light on how ancient civilizations viewed those with genetic disorders. French researchers have found the oldest confirmed case of Down syndrome after uncovering the skeleton of a child with the genetic disorder.

A case study published in the International Journal of Paleopathology showed pictures of the skeleton buried near a church in Chalon-sur-Saône in eastern France. The skeleton featured a broad skull with flattened base and thinner skull bones, all telltale signs of Down syndrome.

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Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition that is associated with intellectual disability, a characteristic facial appearance, and mild to moderate cognitive delays.

The researchers also noted that in spite of the evident genetic disorder the child did not appear to be stigmatized by the community, at least in its burial.

“This Down syndrome child was not treated differently at death than others in the community,” wrote lead author Maite Rivollat. “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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