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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Charlotte Roberts

Sparacello, Vitale S., Roberts, Charlotte A., Kerudin, Ammielle & Müller, Romy (2017). A 6500-year-old Middle Neolithic child from Pollera Cave (Liguria, Italy) with probable multifocal osteoarticular tuberculosis. International Journal of Paleopathology 17: 67-74.

Author(s) from Durham


Clear skeletal evidence of prehistoric tuberculosis (TB) is rare, especially in children. We describe and differentially diagnose the pathological changes displayed by a five-year-old child, Pollera 21 (PO21) dated to the Middle Neolithic of Liguria (Italy), or 5740 ± 30 BP (Beta-409341; 6635–6453 cal BP, 2σ, OxCal 4.2). PO21 shows a number of osteoarticular lesions, mainly of a lytic nature with very little bone proliferation: the vertebral column, the shoulder and pelvic girdles, and the ribcage are involved. Given the nature and pattern of the lesions, we propose a diagnosis of multifocal (or multiple) bone TB. Attempts to detect TB aDNA through molecular analysis gave negative results, but this alone is not sufficient to prove that PO21 was not infected with TB. The lesions observed in PO21 share similarities with other published evidence, such as spinal and joint involvement, and disseminated cyst-like lesions. Conversely, PO21 does not show diffuse bone deposition, such as hypertrophic osteoarthropathy (HOA) or endocranial modifications such as serpens endocrania symmetrica (SES). PO21 adds to our knowledge of patterns of TB manifestation in archaeological skeletal remains, which is especially important considering the variability in types and patterns of osteoarticular lesions seen today in people with TB.