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Exploring Prehistoric Tuberculosis in Britain: A Combined Macroscopic and Biomolecular Approach

MCCARRISON, KIRSTY,ELIZABETH (2012) Exploring Prehistoric Tuberculosis in Britain: A Combined Macroscopic and Biomolecular Approach. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial, infectious disease, currently responsible for millions of deaths worldwide. Although the aetiology of the disease in its current form is well documented in the clinical literature, little is known of the form the disease took in earlier times, or the time at which it first entered Britain. This study aimed to test the hypotheses that TB was present in British prehistory, (as it was in Europe), prior to that previously identified in the Iron Age (Mays and Taylor, 2003) and that the infection was caused by both M. tuberculosis and M. bovis; the latter most commonly contracted from cattle. The objective of the project was to use ancient DNA (aDNA) from human skeletons to study the bacteria responsible for TB (M. tuberculosis complex) in order to then study the origin and evolution of the strains of the bacteria causing TB in prehistoric Britain. Thirteen individuals from Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age sites in the south of England (comprising inhumations of reasonable preservation), were selected for inclusion in the project, based on non-specific evidence of infection, potentially representative of early tuberculous skeletal involvement. A biocultural approach was employed in order to better understand the environmental and social context from which the samples originated. The geographical area under study was limited to the south of Britain, (with the exception of Wetwang Slack in Yorkshire) because of the direct contact between Britain and the continent in this region. Biomolecular analysis did not produce positive results for TB, the reasons for which may include poor preservation of pathogen aDNA, and thus, no conclusive evidence was found of the presence of TB in prehistoric Britain prior to that already identified. Problems encountered during the project were highlighted in an effort to improve efficiency of future projects, with suggestions as to how this study may be extended in order to allow development of a much more comprehensive history of TB in Britain to be formed; its origins, spread and possible impact on ancient British populations.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:"bioarchaeology" "tuberculosis" "disease" "prehistory" "biomolecular"
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:30 May 2012 11:12

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