Study of ancient pottery reveals traces of blood and deadly virus

Researchers traced proteins belonging to blood and organs in pottery vessels from a burial mound at Iron Age hillfort in Heuneburg, Germany. They also found traces of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus.

Reconstructed pottery of the same type as the one used in the study (by Conner Wiktorowicz)

The contents of ceramic vessels decay over time, leaving a film of residue containing proteins from any organic matter stored within. The Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV) is a severe tick-borne disease that still kills people across the world today. The study provides the first identification of CCHFV or any hemorrhagic fever virus in the archaeological record. It’s also the only known example of human blood and organs being buried in pottery vessels during this time in this region. The researchers identified proteins specific to human blood and organs and showed that the vessels once held organ remains and also revealed the presence of two unique protein fragments, known as peptides, that help CCHFV bind to a host cell just prior to infection. As the archaeologists state, the question remains as to whether the presence of CCHFV in Iron Age Germany represents evidence of an ancient epidemic, shows that the pathogen was endemic to the region, or traces the path of an individual who travelled from an infected area.

Reconstruction of Iron Age hillfort at Heuneburg (by Associated Press)

(after Science, Associated Press & Conner Wiktorowicz)

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