Earliest Evidence of Infectious Disease in Archaeological contexts:Three lines of evidence often used:Human remains, including soft tissue and hard tissue markers, deformities, burial rituals that might be connected with a social stigma attached to disease, even preservation of indicators such as lice found in Egyptian mummy hair. Iconography: pictures with human figures with characteristics indicative of a disease (less reliable of course). Literary source: historical documents, descriptions of health and disease, hard to interpret since they didn’t have our diagnostic tools and knowledge in the past. Social and cultural factors influencing infectious disease:Population Size Crowding & DensityWater SupplyProximity to animalsImmune system (can be influenced by weaning practices, exposure to pathogens)Environment and subsistence strategies (cultural practices can lead to changes in the environment that support or don’t support the survival of pathogensAll these can influence a groups health relative to infectious disease. Just because a pt
-Non-specific skeletal markers: It is not always possible to positively identify which infectious disease created specific skeletal markers. -Lack of soft tissue evidence: Many diseases leave markers on soft tissues, which are rarely preserved in archaeological contexts. Why a lot of pathology studies are done on mummified remains when they are uncovered. -Not all infections leave markers on hard tissues: Often, skeletal markers of disease only occur if an individual had the disease for a long time, or it was very severe. So we have no evidence of infection if an individual fought it off quickly. Additionally, if someone died soon after contracting the infectious disease, their wont have been enough time for it to effect the skeleton and there will be no evidence of the pathogenic cause of death. So studying infectious disease in the archaeological record can be difficult and problematic and lead to misidentification of a disease and more often no identification of any disease on skeletal remains and an incomplete picture of individual and community health.
A number of infectious diseases leave skeletal markers- these have been identified in archaeological contexts. Not always clear that they indicate the disease but there are standards/criteria followed for identifying them. A few include:TuberculosisTreponematosis such as SyphilisLeprosyMalaria (deformedhumerus off the Israeli coast indicative of Malarial infection)Hytad’s Disease (calcified cysts of a tapeworm like infection)
Infectious diseases that leave no bone markers:Plague-while the major plague we think about (Black Death) didn’t occur until 1100 AD, other plagues hit parts of the Roman empire, including The Antoine Plague in 165-180 CE, the Justinian plague that killed 25% of the Roman empire from AD 542-543-leave no bone markers though (very rapid death) so only would be able to diagnosis in mummified remains and still hard to do then. Often other indicators that a body was a plague victim-type of cemetery, etc.Cholera leaves neither identifiable soft tissue markers or hard tissue markersParasitic infections: best evidence often in latrine areas or coprolites. Mummified remains as well
Importance of studying infectious disease:Social cultural impacts on disease:Impacts of disease on social cultural-Major health element that influences quality of life-social responses to disease: beliefs and superstitions (example of Vampires), cultural institutions developed to handle disease (picture of leper colony facility), Stigmas and perceptions-all an important part of understanding past ways of life. Know that all this accompanies infectious diesaes today, we can consider the social and biological impacts it had in Prehistoric and historic times as well
Over the past couple of weeks I worked on both the Roman Necropolis and the Prehistoric Cave. Both had a lot of human remains. I think it would be really interesting to see if any of the remains that are covered throughout the duration of the project indicate any infectious diseases. I also think it would be interesting to consult literary sources in the case of the Roman Necropolis, as well as look at cultural and social factors of both that might indicate whether or not infectious disease was a major part of these groups lives and how they shaped their cultures and way of life
Infectious disease in roman times Katie Grow session 3
Studying Infectious Disease in Archaeology Katie Grow June 20, 2012
Infectious Disease in ArchaeologyEar l i est evi dence of i nf ect i ousdi sease i n ar chaeol ogi calcont ext s – H an R ai ns um em – I conogr aphy Advanced-stage tuberculosis spondylitis – Li t er ar y Sour ces Public water sources increases Egyptian Medical Text infectious pathogen spread
Difficulties Studying Infectious Disease in Archaeological Contexts • Non-specific skeletal markers • Lack of soft tissues evidence • Not all infections leave markers on hard tissues
Infectious Diseases in Past Societies Hard tissue markers Tuberculosis Leprosy Syphilis
Infectious Diseases in Past Societies No hard tissue markers • Plague • Cholera • Parasitic infections
I m t ance of porst udyi ng I nf ect i ous D sease i Leper Colony Facility
Relevance…The Roman Necropolis The Prehistoric Cave
ReferencesAufderheide, A and C. Rodriguez-Martin 1998 The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Paleopathology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Nelson, K. and C. Williams 2006 Infectious Disease Epidemiology: Theory and Practice. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury, MA.Zink, E. Molna, R. Motamedi, G. Palfy, A. Marcsik, and A. Nerlich 2006 Molecular History of Tuberculosis from Ancient Mummies and S Skeletons. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 17 380-391.