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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Charlotte Roberts

Sparacello, V.S., Roberts, C.A., Canci, A., Moggi-Cecchi, J. & Marchi, D. (2016). Insights on the paleoepidemiology of ancient tuberculosis from the structural analysis of postcranial remains from the Ligurian Neolithic (northwestern Italy). International Journal of Paleopathology 15: 50-64.

Author(s) from Durham


The aim of this research is to gain insights on the progression timeline of osteoarticular tuberculosis (TB)
in people from the Neolithic period by using skeletal traits that are independent of the bony lesions.
The body proportions and postcranial mechanical strength of bones from two individuals from Liguria in
northwestern Italy (Arene Candide 5, adolescent, and Arma dell’Aquila 1, adult), were compared with the rest ofthe Ligurian Neolithic skeletal series (45 individuals). If TB led to wasting ofthe skeleton and lack of normal function that endured for years, as often happens today, a clear signature of postcranial gracility
and disruption of development should be apparent. Conversely, rapid progress of the disease would
leave little systemic macroscopic change in the skeleton, except for the bony lesions directly caused by
the TB pathogen, suggesting a different level of bacterial virulence in the past. The extreme biomechanical
gracility observed in the lower limb of Arene Candide 5 suggests a period of compromised diaphyseal periosteal apposition during ontogeny due to metabolic disturbances likely linked to TB. Results suggest that, in Neolithic Liguria, TB in humans saw a slow, chronic progression, which is characteristic of diseases with long histories of host-pathogen co-evolution.