A Tropical Disease in Medieval Europe Revises History of a Pathogen Related to Syphilis – Mirage News

Genomic analysis of plague victims from a mass burial in Lithuania identifies a medieval woman who was also infected with yaws – a disease today found only in the tropics

Plague was commonplace in medieval times, so finding its victims in a 15th century Lithuanian graveyard was no surprise. However, discovering one woman with a second disease, yaws – a close relative of modern syphilis found today only in tropical settings – was something researchers did not expect. The current study’s findings are changing perspectives on the evolutionary history of a disease family thought to be out of reach for the study of ancient DNA.

Mass burials are common remnants of the many plague outbreaks that ravaged Medieval Europe. A number of these graveyards are well documented in historical sources, but the locations of most, and the victims they contain, have been lost to the pages of time. In Vilnius, Lithuania, one such cemetery was found in a typical way: accidental discovery during a routine city construction project.

A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports details the findings of genomic analyses on these medieval skeletons, with important implications for the history of syphilis in Europe.

Just another plague pit?

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