Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ancient Pottery Reveals Common Virus

Around 600-450 B.C.E., a high-class individual had very concerning symptoms. After he died, the villagers stored his blood and organs in pottery, and left them in a burial mound. Archaeologists have been able to use a technique to analyze the proteins on the vessels. They've uncovered the presence of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHFV), concluding that this is what the individual had died of. CCHFV is also a tick-borne disease that is still spread and kills people to this date.

Archaeologists note that over time as the contents of the pottery decay, it leaves a film of residue of any of the organic matter left inside. They are trying to figure out ways to uncover and analyze these proteins. For this study, detergents and chemicals were used on the pottery to uncover any protein fragments. Isolating and analyzing the protein fragments led them to add it to the national protein database.

<p>A reconstruction of the same type of vessels sampled for the study.</p>

"Recovering nucleic acids from ancient viruses is extremely difficult and plagued by contamination,” notes Angelique Corthals, a forensic anthropologist at the City University of New York in New York City, who was not involved in the study. "Virus proteins are more readily accessible and less prone to degradation." 

This study helped them realize that ancient viruses are more easily identified by the protein instead of their DNA or RNA. The proteins are much more stable and can be preserved for a long amount of time. Archaeologists wonder if this finding proves that CCHFV was endemic for the entire region. Pottery won't be overlooked anymore.

It would be interesting if they could trace back other well known diseases due to their pottery findings. There could be origins of different well known viruses on many objects that have just been overlooked as artifacts with no scientific value.


  1. It is so weird to think how about not only how extremely old some of these viruses may be, but just how many things we may have the ability to discover by identifying their DNA and RNA. Who knows what we can use or discover with 'new' proteins.

  2. Imagine if the possibility of find new diseases from just one pot! So interesting!

  3. Imagine if we used the same technique in Egyptian tombs where Pharaohs had their entrails placed into conopic jars in order to be taken to the after life. Most of these jars are usually still intact with the innards still inside them.

  4. It is intriguing how a disease that was around then is still around now. I want to know if the disease is identical or has it modified itself over the thousands of years to survive. I wonder how many of those pottery actually still have the trace of a disease on them and maybe a new one that we did not know existed since it is not around anymore but was around thousands of years ago.