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Hepatitis B Virus Detected in Ancient Remains

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

NITRA, SLOVAKIA—The Slovak Spectator reports that scientists have detected the Hepatitis B virus in the remains of a fourth-century Germanic prince whose tomb was discovered in northern Slovakia in 2005. The prince was buried in a wooden sarcophagus placed in an underground chamber made of logs. Although the burial was looted in antiquity, the remains—in addition to the wood, leather, and textile artifacts—were preserved by the tomb’s microclimate. Karol Pieta of the Slovak Academy of Sciences said analysis of the remains suggests the man died around the age of 20, probably of Hepatitis B. The testing also indicates he grew up near the Tatras Mountains, where he was buried. But Pieta said the young man spent a significant part of his life in the Mediterranean region. “We know it thanks to isotope analysis that revealed his eating habits, and those are Mediterranean,” he said. “It is possible that he was part of an imperial Roman court or served in the Roman army as a prominent officer.” To read about how scientists discovered the pathogen responsible for a 1545 epidemic in Mexico, go to "Conquistador Contagion."

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