Scientists crack ancient bone diseasePublished On: Fri, Jan 6th, 2012 | Archaeology | By BioNews
Traces of a bone infection known as brucellosis were found in ancient skeletal remains, according to a genetic study.
Characterised by chronic respiratory illness and fever, brucellosis is acquired by eating infected meat or unpasteurized dairy products or by coming into contact with animals carrying the brucella bacteria.
David Foran, director of Michigan State University’s (MSU) Forensic Science Program, and Todd Fenton, Michigan associate professor of anthropology, confrimed the existence of brucellosis.
Fenton said advanced DNA testing at the MSU allowed the researchers to confirm the existence of the disease in skeletons 1,000 years old, the American Journal of Physical Anthropology reported.
“For years, we had to hypothesize the cause of pathological conditions like this. The era of DNA testing and the contributions that DNA can make to my work are really exciting,” Fenton said, according to a university statement.
Fenton and a group of MSU graduate students were serving as bone specialists for a team of archaeologists excavating sites in the ancient Albanian city of Butrint.
Vertebrae from two of the Byzantine-era skeletons in Albania, both adolescent males from the 10th century to the 13th century – had significant lesions, leading the researchers to theorize that boys had suffered from tuberculosis (TB).
These ancient samples were sent to the forensic DNA lab, where results for TB came back negative.
Brucellosis and TB causes similar damage – basically eating away the bone – although no one ever confirmed brucellosis in human bone being recovered from an archaeological site.