An early 13th-century AD skeleton found on the outskirts of ancient Troy has yielded preserved bacterial DNA from a deadly maternal infection – an unparalleled find.
The genetic material came from two calcified nodules located at the base of the chest of a 30-year-old pregnant woman discovered in a stone-lined grave by archaeologists affiliated with Project Troia.
Laboratory analyses, led by researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison and McMaster University, successfully sequenced genomes of two bacterial species as well as the DNA of the mother and a male – likely her fetus. The cause of the woman’s death appears to have been chorioamnionitis, an infection of the placenta, amniotic fluid, and fetus membranes.
This is the first case of maternal sepsis in the archaeological record, giving researchers a unique opportunity to study the evolutionary history of the bacteria, its spread to the human population, and Byzantine rural life in western Turkey.
Image: Gebhard Bieg
Text: Nicholas Bartos