CRC 1266 - Scales of Transformation

F4: Tracing Infectious Diseases by Analysis of Ancient Human Genomes and Skeletal Pathology


Ancient DNA work performed in a clean lab
Fig. 1. Ancient DNA work must be performed in a clean lab to avoid contamination with exogenous DNA. Additional protective measures involve the use of overalls, masks and gloves. (photo: S. Kornell)

The overall aim of F4 is to trace infectious diseases over time and to evaluate their effect on prehistoric transformation processes. In the next four years, the focus will be on genetic adaptions of populations to infectious diseases as well as on pathogenic and pathological evidence in the skeletal body. We will collect diachronic high-resolution information about changes in immune genes (e.g. HLA) that occurred in response to pathogen exposure and describe the origin of these changes in Neolithic and Bronze Age populations across Europe. In addition, skeletal lesions and their palaeoepidemiological interpretation will shed light on the complex interrelation between susceptibility, infection, physical burden, morbidity, and mortality in Late Neolithic populations in Germany. By combining ancient DNA data from pathogens and human hosts (Fig. 1) with those from palaeopathological investigations of skeletal remains (Fig. 2), our research takes into consideration multiple lines of evidence. Ultimately, we envisage an integrative model that helps to understand if and how disease and suffering were triggers and/or consequences of substantial socio-economic change in the past.

Human remainsFig. 2: In the next four years, F4 will expand its focus to include paleopathological investigations of human remains (picture: K. Fuchs).


Phase 2 - Research activities 2020-2024

Phase 1 - Research activities 2016-2020



New Publications