Where Does Leprosy Come From?

Leprosy may have originated in Europe -- not Asia, as previously thought. An international team of researchers sampled about 90 different skeletons bearing the telltale deformations of leprosy. The skeletons were unearthed in Europe, and have been dated to between 400 and 1400 CE.

From the bones, the scientists reconstructed ten new genomes of medieval Mycobacterium leprae, in addition to the one or two strains already known to have been circulating in medieval Europe. All the strains of the leprosy bacterium were in fact present in medieval Europe, which strongly suggests leprosy originated closer to Europe than previously thought. Higher diversity is present near an area of origin - this is true of languages, humans, and apparently, leprosy. The new results suggest that leprosy came from someplace closer to Europe, like south-eastern Europe or western Asia.

The oldest strain was detected in a skeleton found in Great Chesterford, Essex, in southeast England, which has been dated to between 415 and 545 CE. This is the same strain found in modern-day red squirrels!

Early Medieval Gravestones Testify To An Irish Monastery’s Importance

Founded by St. Ciarán in the 500s CE, Clonmacnoise is one of Ireland’s most famous early monasteries. Its high status is reflected in the medieval documents recording numerous instances of Irish kings and important ecclesiastics being buried at the site.     Today, we know those were not fabrications of ambitious monks, because we have their beautiful grave-stones. Clonmacnoise has over 700 grave-stones, in fact. It is the largest collection of early medieval grave-slabs found anywhere in Atlantic Europe. People must really have wanted to be buried there!     Click through the image gallery to see a small selection of some of the grave-stones.

The Americas' Linguistic Diversity

There were dozens of language families, each the equivalent of the Indo-European family, before 1492. This map is a "simplified" one. In today's California, for instance, languages that are spoken by neighboring tribes are as different as French and Chinese.     Why did the Americas develop such linguistic diversity? Many linguists suspect that at least some of these separate families date back to separate migrations of different tribes from Asia who originally spoke unrelated languages. Linguistic and archaeological data hint at more than one migration from Asia into the Americas, all of them through Alaska.     Extra Fun Fact: see “Eskimo-Aleut” in northern North America? It is not colored because there is no evidence those languages are related to any other indigenous American languages!

Italian Man Loses His Arm, Replaces It With A Knife!

About 1,500 years ago, a man in his late forties lost his arm. It was often a death sentence at the time. People died from amputations quickly, from bloodloss, or slowly, from infection. We do not know how or why, but this lucky man survived the injury and lived one-armed for years and perhaps decades. Well, not completely one-armed. He replaced his lost right forearm with a knife, buckled to his arm with leather straps. When he died the knife was buried with him. Leaving a very interesting find for modern archaeologists! He was found at a necropolis near Verona in northern Italy. The necropolis was in use between the 500s and 700s CE, and has so far yielded 164 tombs holding 222 individuals (plus a burial pit containing two greyhound dogs and a horse).  

The Peak of the Sasanid Empire

This snapshot shows the greatest territorial extent of the Sasanians, circa 620 to 627 CE.

It was the last great empire in the Middle East before Islam. The Sasanians were locked into a struggle with the Byzantine Empire, which made both weaker when the Islamic army swept out of the Arabian peninsula.

Coin Collection From Classical Corinth Presents A Conundrum

A hoard of about 119 coins, together with an iron lock that may have locked the container holding the coins, have been found inside a collapsed building in the harbor of the ancient city of Corinth in Greece.

The earliest coin in the hoard dates to shortly after the death of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (who reigned from 306-337 CE), while the most recent two coins in the stash date to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I (who reigned from 491-518 CE). Based on their weight and size, the coins from Anastasius I's reign likely date to sometime between 491 and 498 CE, before Anastasius I reformed the Byzantine Empire's coinage system. So the building collapse no sooner than the 500 CE. When the coins come from is not the conundrum, however.

Why didn't anyone come to collect the stash after the building collapsed? That's the big mystery that has archaeologists scratching their heads. The coin collection represents significant wealth at the time, and the lack of bodies suggests the collection's owner wasn't killed when the structure collapsed. The coins were found just 12 to 16 inches (30-40 centimeters) below modern ground level. It wouldn't have been much work to retrieve the coins. But instead they were left, to be discovered by modern archaeologists. Not that the archaeologists are complaining!

Hawaii Has A Protected Valley, Where Its Ancient Plants Are Preserved

For the past 1,500 years, Limahuli Valley on Kauai has been a green haven, a wilderness preserved to exist just as the native Hawaiians experienced it. It is home to plant life unlike anything found in the rest of the world, with many endangered plants thriving in the valley.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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