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Ancient skeletal evidence for leprosy in India (2000 B.C.).

Robbins G, Tripathy VM, Misra VN, Mohanty RK, Shinde VS, Gray KM, Schug MD - PLoS ONE (2009)

Bottom Line: A middle aged adult male skeleton demonstrates pathological changes in the rhinomaxillary region, degenerative joint disease, infectious involvement of the tibia (periostitis), and injury to the peripheral skeleton.Results indicate that lepromatous leprosy was present in India by 2000 B.C.This evidence represents the oldest documented skeletal evidence for the disease.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Anthropology, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, United States of America. Robbinsgm@appstate.edu

ABSTRACT

Background: Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae that affects almost 250,000 people worldwide. The timing of first infection, geographic origin, and pattern of transmission of the disease are still under investigation. Comparative genomics research has suggested M. leprae evolved either in East Africa or South Asia during the Late Pleistocene before spreading to Europe and the rest of the World. The earliest widely accepted evidence for leprosy is in Asian texts dated to 600 B.C.

Methodology/principal findings: We report an analysis of pathological conditions in skeletal remains from the second millennium B.C. in India. A middle aged adult male skeleton demonstrates pathological changes in the rhinomaxillary region, degenerative joint disease, infectious involvement of the tibia (periostitis), and injury to the peripheral skeleton. The presence and patterning of lesions was subject to a process of differential diagnosis for leprosy including treponemal disease, leishmaniasis, tuberculosis, osteomyelitis, and non-specific infection.

Conclusions/significance: Results indicate that lepromatous leprosy was present in India by 2000 B.C. This evidence represents the oldest documented skeletal evidence for the disease. Our results indicate that Vedic burial traditions in cases of leprosy were present in northwest India prior to the first millennium B.C. Our results also support translations of early Vedic scriptures as the first textual reference to leprosy. The presence of leprosy in skeletal material dated to the post-urban phase of the Indus Age suggests that if M. leprae evolved in Africa, the disease migrated to India before the Late Holocene, possibly during the third millennium B.C. at a time when there was substantial interaction among the Indus Civilization, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. This evidence should be impetus to look for additional skeletal and molecular evidence of leprosy in India and Africa to confirm the African origin of the disease.

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The excavation site in Balathal.A) A map of India showing the location of Balathal and a view of the lower town. B) Photograph of the excavations within the stone enclosure where skeleton 1997-1 was located. This individual was interred in the Chalcolithic deposit (layer 7) of stratified layers of burned cow dung. Associated radiocarbon dates indicate an antiquity of cal B.C. 2000.
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pone-0005669-g001: The excavation site in Balathal.A) A map of India showing the location of Balathal and a view of the lower town. B) Photograph of the excavations within the stone enclosure where skeleton 1997-1 was located. This individual was interred in the Chalcolithic deposit (layer 7) of stratified layers of burned cow dung. Associated radiocarbon dates indicate an antiquity of cal B.C. 2000.

Mentions: We report here on skeletal evidence for leprosy from 2000 B.C. at the site of Balathal (24°43′N 73°59′E), located 40 km northeast of Udaipur in the contemporary state of Rajasthan, India (Figure 1a). There are two phases of occupation represented at Balathal, a small occupation in the Early Historic period (cal. B.C. 760 - A.D. 380) and a large Chalcolithic settlement (cal. B.C. 3700–1820) [30]. The Chalcolithic people of Balathal lived in stone or mud-brick houses, made wheel thrown pottery, copper implements, and practiced dry field agriculture focused on barley (Hordeum vulgare) and wheat (Triticum spp.). The Chalcolithic deposit demonstrates evidence of Harappan influences in the classical tan ware ceramics, which resemble Harappan red ware in manufacture, fabric, firing, and vessel forms [31]. Copper objects include razor blades, knives, chisels, arrow heads, spearheads, and axes. Two burials were recovered from the 1994–1997 excavations of the Chalcolithic deposit—individuals 1997-1 and 1997-2. Three additional burials were recovered in the 1999–2002 excavations of the Early Historic period—individuals 1999-1, 1999-2, and 1999-3 [32].


Ancient skeletal evidence for leprosy in India (2000 B.C.).

Robbins G, Tripathy VM, Misra VN, Mohanty RK, Shinde VS, Gray KM, Schug MD - PLoS ONE (2009)

The excavation site in Balathal.A) A map of India showing the location of Balathal and a view of the lower town. B) Photograph of the excavations within the stone enclosure where skeleton 1997-1 was located. This individual was interred in the Chalcolithic deposit (layer 7) of stratified layers of burned cow dung. Associated radiocarbon dates indicate an antiquity of cal B.C. 2000.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC2682583&req=5

pone-0005669-g001: The excavation site in Balathal.A) A map of India showing the location of Balathal and a view of the lower town. B) Photograph of the excavations within the stone enclosure where skeleton 1997-1 was located. This individual was interred in the Chalcolithic deposit (layer 7) of stratified layers of burned cow dung. Associated radiocarbon dates indicate an antiquity of cal B.C. 2000.
Mentions: We report here on skeletal evidence for leprosy from 2000 B.C. at the site of Balathal (24°43′N 73°59′E), located 40 km northeast of Udaipur in the contemporary state of Rajasthan, India (Figure 1a). There are two phases of occupation represented at Balathal, a small occupation in the Early Historic period (cal. B.C. 760 - A.D. 380) and a large Chalcolithic settlement (cal. B.C. 3700–1820) [30]. The Chalcolithic people of Balathal lived in stone or mud-brick houses, made wheel thrown pottery, copper implements, and practiced dry field agriculture focused on barley (Hordeum vulgare) and wheat (Triticum spp.). The Chalcolithic deposit demonstrates evidence of Harappan influences in the classical tan ware ceramics, which resemble Harappan red ware in manufacture, fabric, firing, and vessel forms [31]. Copper objects include razor blades, knives, chisels, arrow heads, spearheads, and axes. Two burials were recovered from the 1994–1997 excavations of the Chalcolithic deposit—individuals 1997-1 and 1997-2. Three additional burials were recovered in the 1999–2002 excavations of the Early Historic period—individuals 1999-1, 1999-2, and 1999-3 [32].

Bottom Line: A middle aged adult male skeleton demonstrates pathological changes in the rhinomaxillary region, degenerative joint disease, infectious involvement of the tibia (periostitis), and injury to the peripheral skeleton.Results indicate that lepromatous leprosy was present in India by 2000 B.C.This evidence represents the oldest documented skeletal evidence for the disease.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Department of Anthropology, Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, United States of America. Robbinsgm@appstate.edu

ABSTRACT

Background: Leprosy is a chronic infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium leprae that affects almost 250,000 people worldwide. The timing of first infection, geographic origin, and pattern of transmission of the disease are still under investigation. Comparative genomics research has suggested M. leprae evolved either in East Africa or South Asia during the Late Pleistocene before spreading to Europe and the rest of the World. The earliest widely accepted evidence for leprosy is in Asian texts dated to 600 B.C.

Methodology/principal findings: We report an analysis of pathological conditions in skeletal remains from the second millennium B.C. in India. A middle aged adult male skeleton demonstrates pathological changes in the rhinomaxillary region, degenerative joint disease, infectious involvement of the tibia (periostitis), and injury to the peripheral skeleton. The presence and patterning of lesions was subject to a process of differential diagnosis for leprosy including treponemal disease, leishmaniasis, tuberculosis, osteomyelitis, and non-specific infection.

Conclusions/significance: Results indicate that lepromatous leprosy was present in India by 2000 B.C. This evidence represents the oldest documented skeletal evidence for the disease. Our results indicate that Vedic burial traditions in cases of leprosy were present in northwest India prior to the first millennium B.C. Our results also support translations of early Vedic scriptures as the first textual reference to leprosy. The presence of leprosy in skeletal material dated to the post-urban phase of the Indus Age suggests that if M. leprae evolved in Africa, the disease migrated to India before the Late Holocene, possibly during the third millennium B.C. at a time when there was substantial interaction among the Indus Civilization, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. This evidence should be impetus to look for additional skeletal and molecular evidence of leprosy in India and Africa to confirm the African origin of the disease.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus