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Bony Ear Growths Found in Skeletons From Panama

Friday, January 4, 2019

Panama ear growthWASHINGTON, D.C.—Smithsonian Magazine reports that Nicole Smith-Guzmán of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and her colleagues examined 125 skulls from nine pre-Columbian burial sites in Panama, and found bony growths in the ear canals of seven men and one woman. Three of the men with the growths were buried together. The growths, known as external auditory exostoses, or surfers’ ear, are thought to form as a reaction to long exposure to cold wind and water. And although Panama is a tropical country, water temperatures in the Gulf of Panama drop between January and April, when trade winds from the north blow warm surface water out into the Pacific Ocean, and colder water rises to the surface. Smith-Guzmán suggested the growths could indicate that early Panamanians spent a lot of time in deep waters to retrieve thorny oysters, giant conch, and pearl oysters, rather than the occurrence of fungal or bacterial infections, since the condition appeared mostly in males. If the growths had been caused by illness, they would have appeared in both men and women at about the same rate, she reasoned. Further research will compare ancient and modern examples of surfers’ ear across the region, Smith-Guzmán added. For more, go to “Pirates of the Original Panama Canal.”

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