Ancient <em>Mycobacterium leprae</em> genomes from the mediaeval sites of Chichester and Raunds in England

Publication date: December 2019

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 112

Author(s): Ammielle Kerudin, Romy Müller, Jo Buckberry, Christopher J. Knüsel, Terence A. Brown


We examined six skeletons from mediaeval contexts from two sites in England for the presence of Mycobacterium leprae DNA, each of the skeletons displaying osteological indicators of leprosy. Polymerase chain reactions directed at the species-specific RLEP multicopy sequence produced positive results with three skeletons, these being among those with the clearest osteological signs of leprosy. Following in-solution hybridization capture, sufficient sequence reads were obtained to cover >70% of the M. leprae genomes from these three skeletons, with a mean read depth of 4–10×. Two skeletons from a mediaeval hospital in Chichester, UK, dating to the 14th–17th centuries AD, contained M. leprae strains of subtype 3I, which has previously been reported in mediaeval England. The third skeleton, from a churchyard cemetery at Raunds Furnells, UK, dating to the 10th to mid-12th centuries AD, carried subtype 3K, which has been recorded at 7th–13th century AD sites in Turkey, Hungary and Denmark, but not previously in Britain. We suggest that travellers to the Holy Land might have been responsible for the transmission of subtype 3K from southeast Europe to Britain.