Leprosy in skulls from the Paris Catacombs

Patrícia D. Deps*, Simon Collin, Sylvie Robin, Philippe Charlier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The Paris Catacombs contain the remains of approximately 6 million people dating back to the 15th century, when leprosy was endemic in France. Aims: The aim of this palaeopathological study was to identify the presence of leprosy in skulls from the Paris Catacombs. 

Subjects and methods: Macroscopic examination of skulls in situ for bone changes secondary to oronasal soft tissue infection by leprosy. Skulls were categorised as having “probable” signs of leprosy if they had an enlarged nasal (pyriform) aperture, resorption of the anterior nasal spine, and resorption of the alveolar processes of maxilla, and as having “possible” signs of leprosy if they met one of these three criteria. 

Results: Skulls from 123 sections within the Catacombs (approximately 1500 remains in total) were triaged, with 367 skulls identified as suitable for examination. Of these, 74 had central facial bone alterations/abnormalities and underwent detailed examination, yielding 0.5% (2/367) classified as having probable, and 5.7% (21/367) possible signs of leprosy. 

Conclusions: The proportion of skulls with probable signs of leprosy gives an approximate estimate (0.5%) for the prevalence of this disease in the population of Paris (or districts of Paris) during the 15–18th centuries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-47
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of Human Biology
Issue number1
Early online date28 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: No funding information.

Open Access: No Open Access licence.

Publisher copyright: © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

Citation: Patrícia D. Deps, Simon M. Collin, Sylvie Robin & Philippe Charlier (2020) Leprosy in skulls from the Paris Catacombs, Annals of Human Biology, 47:1, 42-47,

DOI: 10.1080/03014460.2020.1714729


  • Hansen’s disease
  • Leprosy
  • osteoarchaeology
  • palaeopathology
  • rhinomaxillary syndrome


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