Sunday, December 15, 2013

Tuberculosis found in 7000 year old bodies

Tuberculosis was present in Europe as early as 7000 years ago, according to new research published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Muriel Masson and colleagues at the University of Szeged examined 71 individuals for their skeletal palaeopathology from a late Neolithic Tisza culture population of the 7000-year-old site of Hódmezővásárhely-Gorzsa in southern Hungary.

A disease called Hypertrophic Pulmonary Osteopathy (HPO) is characterized by symmetrical new bone formations on the long bones caused by periostitis. Most recently in the Middle East, the skeletal remains of a 12-month old infant recovered from the underwater Neolithic site of Atlit-Yam, Israel, dated to 9250-8160 BP, were described as showing evidence of HOA, in addition to Mycobacterium tuberculosis aDNA and mycolic cell wall biomarkers.[1].

Numerous cases of infections and metabolic diseases HPO is however a rare find in the archaeological record. The oldest documented cases in Europe include a Merovingian skeleton from the site of Les Rues des Vignes (Nord, France) dated AD500 to 700.

The researchers here found numerous cases of infections and metabolic diseases, and some skeletons showed signs of HPO which offered the potential of isolating tuberculosis. They focused on one skeleton in particular to verify this hypothesis, and analysed the ancient DNA and lipids from the bones to do so. Both tests confirmed the presence of the bacterial complex associated with tuberculosis.

This is one of the earliest known cases of HPO and tuberculosis to date, and helps shed new light on this European community in prehistoric times.

Masson concludes, “This is a crucial find from a fantastic site. It is not only the earliest occurrence of fully-developed HPO on an adult skeleton to date, but also clearly establishes the presence of Tuberculosis in Europe 7000 years ago.”

Past Horizons. 2013. “Tuberculosis found in 7000 year old bodies”. Past Horizons. Posted: October 31, 2013. Available online:

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