Patterns of tuberculosis in the Americas - How can modern biomedicine inform the ancient past?

Alicia Kay Wilbur, Jane Buikstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that continues to take its toll on human lives. Paleopathological research indicates that it has been a significant cause of death among humans for at least five thousand years. Because of the devastating consequences to human health, social systems, and endangered primate species, TB has been the subject of many and varied research efforts throughout the world, efforts that are amassing an enormous amount of data concerning the causative agent Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Despite sequencing of the M. tuberculosis genome and numerous molecular epidemiological studies, many questions remain regarding the origin, evolution, and future co-evolutionary trajectory of M. tuberculosis and humans. Indeed, the origin of pre-Columbian New World TB has been and remains hotly debated, and resolution of this controversy will likely only come with integration of data and theory from multiple disciplines. In this paper, we discuss the pre-Columbian TB controversy, and then use research from biological and biomedical sciences to help inform paleopathological and archaeological studies of this ubiquitous disease that plagued our ancient forbears.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-66
Number of pages8
JournalMemorias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz
Issue numberSUPPL. 2
StatePublished - Dec 2006


  • Americas
  • Anemia
  • Iron
  • Maya
  • Paleopathology
  • Tuberculosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)


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