Scientists have uncovered what they say is the oldest case of leprosy yet found. They have discovered traces of the disease in a 4,000-year-old skeleton they found near Udaipur in Rajasthan, India. The skeleton was buried about 2000 BC.
A report in Science Daily says a team of biological anthropologists from Appalachian State University and archaeologists from Deccan College in Pune, India, recently reported analysis of a 4000-year-old skeleton from India bearing evidence of leprosy. “This skeleton represents both the earliest archaeological evidence for human infection with Mycobacterium leprae in the world and the first evidence for the disease in prehistoric India.”
From the New York Times:
The authors say their find confirms that a passage in the Atharva Veda, a set of Sanskrit hymns written around 1550 B.C., indeed refers to leprosy, a reading that had been doubted because until now the oldest accepted written accounts of the disease were from the sixth century B.C.
The bacterium that causes leprosy seemed to have spread worldwide from a single clone, biologists reported three years ago. But for lack of sufficient samples, they could not tell whether the bacterium was disseminated when modern humans first left Africa about 50,000 years ago, or spread from India in more recent times.