The first time anthropologist Nicole Smith-Guzmán noticed a nob of bone protruding from the ear canal of an ancient skull in Panama, she didn’t know what to make of it. “I never expected to find this sort of bony growth because we’re taught this is a cold-water thing.” And the isthmus of Panama is nothing if not tropical.
The little spur Smith-Guzmán identified had created a slight mound in the skull’s ear canal—an annoying impediment for the person who once had to deal with it. Known as external auditory exostoses, or EAE, the bony masses can be globular or shaped like teardrops. Depending on their severity, these growths, commonly called “surfer’s ear” today, can cause repeat ear infections and even deafness.
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