Anthropologists Study History Of Disease Through Teeth Examination

Published: Tuesday, July 28, 2020 - 5:47pm
Updated: Wednesday, July 29, 2020 - 9:43am

Most people are familiar with the bubonic plague, which killed tens of millions in Europe. 

But anthropologists are finding that pandemics have a long history, one that may go back to the Stone Age. Researchers have been able to learn more about the history of diseases by analyzing DNA preserved in teeth. 

One ancient population collapse is known as the Neolithic decline. Researchers are finding that disease was present at that time, though Anne Stone, an anthropologist at Arizona State University, said it’s too early to know if disease was the sole cause of the decline. 

Stone says that by the Middle Ages, people understood that disease spread. 

They just didn’t know why. 

"And you see this in accounts of the Black Death, where people are doing all sorts of things to be penitent. They’re going to church more or they’re giving up on the church, or they’re killing all the cats, or coming up with other scapegoats," Stone said. 

Some communities learned to isolate themselves, long before germ theory was developed.