Paleopathology is something that most ignore, some abhor, and few adore. It is the study of ancient disease. A Paleopathologist studies skeletal and mummified animal and human remains. Specifically, they look for (and attempt to diagnose) pathological anomalies. These run the gamut, from metabolic disorders like Cooley's anemia
to even the most rare and disgusting cancers, like primary bone cancer
- such as osteosarcoma
, as well as multiple myeloma
Infectious diseases like tuberclerosis and syphilis can leave morphological changes on the pelvis and sacrum, the long bones, and the skull. Parasites can leave similar traces and show up often in medical imaging of mummy finds. Echinococcosis infestation is common in Egyptian mummy tissue, with these larval tapeworm cysts being found most commonly in the liver, intestines, and rectum.
With the advent of sophisticated PCR protocols, much aDNA (ancient DNA) can be gathered and analyzed from ancient remains. From this one can isolate DNA from various pathological bacteria and viruses; the teeth are specifically good at storing the remains of infectious agents. This has helped solve the mystery of the Athenian plague, which is now thought to be Typhoid fever, as it has recently been isolated from human remains associated with that plague. However, the Great Plague, AKA the Black Death, has avoided positive identification and to date no Yersinia pestis DNA has been retrieved from any human remains produced by that particular epidemic. Similarly, the cause of the so called "sweating fevers" is still a mystery (my particular pet bug for that is Brucellosis).
Trauma and fractures are most easily and readily diagnosed, for obvious reasons. Osteomyelitis, or bone infection, is far more common in ancient populations than modern ones. Also more common is malformed healing at fracture sites, as well as a complete lack of healing - this is seen often in ancient radial fractures. Osteoporosis is also easy to spot, and is spotted quite a bit. Other things such as arthritis and bone deformities like club-foot and hammer-toe can be diagnosed from bones alone.
Paleopathology grows as medical science and technology grows more advanced and as Paleopathologists adapt the tools of Pathology, Radiology and many other disciplines to their specialized field.