Examining variation in skeletal tuberculosis in a late pre-contact population from the eastern mountains of Peru

J. Marla Toyne, Nathan Esplin, Jane E. Buikstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objective and materials: This research evaluates the presence and chronology of tuberculosis (TB) in the northeastern highlands of Peru (CE 800–1535) through the analysis of osseous lesions from Pre-Contact Kuelap, Chachapoyas. Methods: We examined macroscopic lesion morphology and distribution from the skeletal series (MNI = 207). Results: We determined that skeletal evidence was highly consistent with advanced multifocal and spinal tuberculosis in 13 individuals. Destructive lesions of the lower thoracic and/or lumbar vertebra bodies and sacroiliac joints are evident in most cases, but we also observed lesions within the manubriosternal, hip, and knee joints. Both adult males (n = 7) and females (n = 6) present skeletal lesions from young adult to older adults, but there is only one late adolescent. Only three individuals demonstrate similar lesion distributions. Conclusions: Variation in lesion distribution in this population-based study shows the importance of identifying extra-vertebral tuberculosis and suggests that the disease may have manifested differently than at other coastal sites. These cases confirm the presence of tuberculosis both before and after Inca occupation across this central Andean highlands region. Significance: This evidence for the likely endemic presence of TB in the New World prior to European Contact furthers our understanding of the distribution of this infectious disease across the region as well as elucidating lesion distribution. Limitations: The diagnosis of tuberculosis is based on skeletal lesions and it should be confirmed by molecular analysis. Future Research: Additional examination of vertebral bodies (including juvenile remains) for evidence of earlier manifestations of infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-34
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Paleopathology
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Chachapoyas
  • Extra-vertebral lesions
  • Infectious disease
  • Skeletal pathology
  • Spinal lesions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Archaeology


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