DNA Study Finds Evidence of Tropical Disease in Medieval Europe – HeritageDaily
A DNA study on victims of the plague in mass graves in Lithuania has found a woman inflicted with Frambesia tropica, otherwise known as Yaws disease in addition to having the plague.
Yaws disease is an infection of the skin, bones and joints caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum pertenue, closely related to syphilis. Symptoms begin with a swelling on the skin that often breaks open to form an ulcer. Weeks later the joints and bones become painful and often misshapen, whilst new skin lesions may appear.
The woman was found in a 15th-century mass grave during building works in Vilnius, Lithuania, containing victims of the plague that was ravaging medieval Europe at the time.
Several such graves have been well documented by historical sources, but their exact position and the people buried in them have often been forgotten over time
Rimantas Jankauskas, professor of medicine at Vilnius University said: “There is no historical information about this grave, but the type of burial, in addition to the location outside the medieval city limits of Vilnius, indicated the plague or a similarly serious infectious disease, in order to gain clarity, we needed confirmation using DNA analysis.”
Researchers were able to identify the plague pathogen by analysing the teeth of several individuals. They also applied newly developed technologies for molecular recognition of pathogens that revealed one victim had a weak signal for a pathogen that appears to be related to syphilis.
“It was impressive to find the traces of such a disease in a historical