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Rib lesions in skeletons from early neolithic sites in Central Germany: On the trail of tuberculosis at the onset of agriculture



As an infectious disease, tuberculosis (TB) is one of the major causes of death worldwide. Paleopathological and paleomicrobiological studies indicate a long standing association of the causative agent Mycobacterium tuberculosis and its human host. Since the occurrence and the epidemic spread of this pathogen seem to be closely linked to social and biological factors, it is of particular interest to understand better the role of TB during periods of social and nutritional change such as the Neolithic. In this study, 118 individuals from three sites in Saxony-Anhalt (Germany) dating to the Linear Pottery Culture (5400–4800 BC) were examined macroscopically to identify TB related bone lesions. In two individuals, Pott's disease was detected. In addition, periosteal reactions of varying degrees and frequency were observed mainly along the neck of the ribs in 6.5% (2/31) of subadults and 35.1% (20/57) of adults, with one site standing out markedly. Rib lesions, however, are not specific indicators of TB as they can also be caused by other diseases; so additional investigations were undertaken using histology and micro-CT scans to say more about the disease process. Supplementary molecular analyses indicate the presence of pathogens belonging to the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex in individuals of all sites. Furthermore, we discuss the occurrence and spread of TB during the Neolithic with regard to nutritional aspects and possible risks of infection. The data presented provide important insights into the health status of Early Neolithic populations in Central Germany. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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