Human tuberculosis predates domestication in ancient Syria

Oussama Baker, Oona Y.C. Lee, Houdini H.T. Wu, Gurdyal S. Besra, David E. Minnikin, Gareth Llewellyn, Christopher M. Williams, Frank Maixner, Niall O'Sullivan, Albert Zink, Bérénice Chamel, Rima Khawam, Eric Coqueugniot, Daniel Helmer, Françoise Le Mort, Pascale Perrin, Lionel Gourichon, Bruno Dutailly, György Pálfi, Hélène CoqueugniotOlivier Dutour*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


The question of pre-neolithic tuberculosis is still open in paleopathological perspective. One of the major interests is to explore what type of infection could have existed around the early stage of animal domestication. Paleopathological lesions evoking skeletal TB were observed on five human skeletons coming from two PPNB sites in Syria, which belongs to the geographical cradle of agriculture. These sites represent respectively pre-domestication phase (Dja'de el Mughara, Northern Syria, 8800-8300 BCE cal.) and early domestication phase (Tell Aswad, Southern Syria, 8200-7600 BCE cal.). MicroCT scan analyses were performed on two specimens (one per site) and revealed microscopic changes in favor of TB infection. Detection of lipid biomarkers is positive for two specimens (one per site). Initial molecular analysis further indicates the presence of TB in one individual from Dja'de. Interestingly, no morphological evidence of TB was observed on animal remains of wild and newly domesticated species, discovered in these sites. These observations strongly suggest the presence of human tuberculosis before domestication and at its early stages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S4-S12
Issue numberS1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
For the ancient DNA analysis, this study is supported in part by the Südtiroler Sparkasse and the South Tyrolean grant legge 14 (FM, NOS, AZ).

Funding Information:
First author is supported by French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and this research has been partially granted by Réseau Universités – Institut Français du Proche Orient (IFPO) and by the interdisciplinary CNRS research program MIE: Humans and pathogens: a long co-evolution. First author is grateful to Danielle Stordeur, emeritus CNRS Research Director and to Michel al-Maqdiss, Director of Excavations for DGAM-Syria for their precious help and assistance.

Funding Information:
For lipid biomarkers, the study was supported by Leverhulme Trust Project Grant F/00 094/BL (GSB, DEM, OY-CL). Mass spectrometry was carried out at the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funded National Mass Spectrometry Facility at Swansea University, UK ( NS/A000020/1 ). GSB has a James Bardrick Personal Research Chair and a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Agriculture cradle
  • Ancient DNA
  • Domestication
  • Early neolithic
  • Lipid biomarkers
  • PPNB
  • Paleopathology of TB


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