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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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Plan view of the Chalcolithic occupation at the site of Balathal.Balathal Phases I–III Chalcolithic structures uncovered during the 1994–1997 excavation seasons. The skeleton was uncovered in layer 7 of quadrant E3 and the radiocarbon date of 2000 B.C. was obtained in layer 7 of quadrant F4, both of which are within the stone enclosure. The Early Historic phase is not represented here as that portion of the site was excavated in 1999–2002.
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pone-0005669-g002: Plan view of the Chalcolithic occupation at the site of Balathal.Balathal Phases I–III Chalcolithic structures uncovered during the 1994–1997 excavation seasons. The skeleton was uncovered in layer 7 of quadrant E3 and the radiocarbon date of 2000 B.C. was obtained in layer 7 of quadrant F4, both of which are within the stone enclosure. The Early Historic phase is not represented here as that portion of the site was excavated in 1999–2002.

Mentions: This paper concerns individual 1997-1 who was buried inside a stone enclosure at Balathal. The stone enclosure was a Chalcolithic construction overlain by an undisturbed layer (layer 5) of sterile, white ashy soil 20–30 cm in thickness. This sterile layer separated Chalcolithic from Early Historic deposits over the entirety of the mound. This layer accumulated over a span of 1000 years from 1800–800 B.C. during a time of increasingly aridity in western India [33], [34], [35], [36], [37]. The enclosure (500 m2) was built at the eastern periphery of the settlement. The walls measure 27×37 m in length and it was built around a foundation 70 cm thick, constructed of mixed clay, silt, brickbats and bricks. The walls of the stone structure are thickest at the base (6.5 m thick) and taper (to 4 m thickness) toward the top of the construction, which along with the platform foundation, is a construction style that resembles Indus citadel construction at Kuntasi and Rojdi in Saurashtra, Gujarat [31]. A radiocarbon date from Layer 13 in Trench E4 (Figure 2) dates the earliest deposits of ash to 3350 B.C. (cal. B.C. 3620–3100). The presence of monumental architecture and new ceramic styles at Balathal from 2400–1700 B.C. has been interpreted as evidence for contact with the Indus civilization during this phase [33].


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)

Plan view of the Chalcolithic occupation at the site of Balathal.Balathal Phases I–III Chalcolithic structures uncovered during the 1994–1997 excavation seasons. The skeleton was uncovered in layer 7 of quadrant E3 and the radiocarbon date of 2000 B.C. was obtained in layer 7 of quadrant F4, both of which are within the stone enclosure. The Early Historic phase is not represented here as that portion of the site was excavated in 1999–2002.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone-0005669-g002: Plan view of the Chalcolithic occupation at the site of Balathal.Balathal Phases I–III Chalcolithic structures uncovered during the 1994–1997 excavation seasons. The skeleton was uncovered in layer 7 of quadrant E3 and the radiocarbon date of 2000 B.C. was obtained in layer 7 of quadrant F4, both of which are within the stone enclosure. The Early Historic phase is not represented here as that portion of the site was excavated in 1999–2002.
Mentions: This paper concerns individual 1997-1 who was buried inside a stone enclosure at Balathal. The stone enclosure was a Chalcolithic construction overlain by an undisturbed layer (layer 5) of sterile, white ashy soil 20–30 cm in thickness. This sterile layer separated Chalcolithic from Early Historic deposits over the entirety of the mound. This layer accumulated over a span of 1000 years from 1800–800 B.C. during a time of increasingly aridity in western India [33], [34], [35], [36], [37]. The enclosure (500 m2) was built at the eastern periphery of the settlement. The walls measure 27×37 m in length and it was built around a foundation 70 cm thick, constructed of mixed clay, silt, brickbats and bricks. The walls of the stone structure are thickest at the base (6.5 m thick) and taper (to 4 m thickness) toward the top of the construction, which along with the platform foundation, is a construction style that resembles Indus citadel construction at Kuntasi and Rojdi in Saurashtra, Gujarat [31]. A radiocarbon date from Layer 13 in Trench E4 (Figure 2) dates the earliest deposits of ash to 3350 B.C. (cal. B.C. 3620–3100). The presence of monumental architecture and new ceramic styles at Balathal from 2400–1700 B.C. has been interpreted as evidence for contact with the Indus civilization during this phase [33].

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