Muriel Masson and colleagues at the University of Szeged have discovered one of the oldest cases of tuberculosis, verifying the presence of the bacteria to 7,000 years ago.
A disease called Hypertrophic Pulmonary Osteopathy (HPO) is characterized by symmetrical new bone formations on the long bones, researchers said.
Based on the archaeological record, it has been suggested that tuberculosis might have caused HPO thousands of years ago. HPO is a rare find in the archaeological record, making it difficult to verify this hypothesis.
In this study, the authors examined 71 human skeletons from a 7,000-year-old site in the south of Hungary.
They found numerous cases of infections and metabolic diseases, and some skeletons showed signs of HPO and therefore potentially tuberculosis.
They focused on one skeleton in particular to verify this hypothesis, and analyzed the ancient DNA and lipids from its 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.
"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 7,000 years ago," Masson added.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.