Research Projects

Ancient Infectious Diseases

Understanding infectious disease in the Paleolithic

PATHOCENE: Prehistoric pathogen research initiative

This research project is hosted by the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Genomics (CMEG) and focuses on the recovery of arthropod disease vectors, intestinal helminths and ancient pathogenic DNA (apDNA) and microbiomic DNA (amDNA) from southern African archaeological contexts spanning the past 100 000 years. Our aim is to generate an autochthonous sub-Saharan African disease baseline that precedes the exodus of Homo sapiens from Africa after c. 65 000 years ago. This research is anticipated to provide tangible evidence for the Pleistocene origins of most major human pathogens. Besides the generation of a ‘Pleistocene disease baseline’, the acquired results will contribute unique data concerning parasite-host antagonistic co-evolutionary contests, facilitate the exploration of parasite- and pathogen-mediated cultural diversification and permit the phylogeographic reconstruction of prehistoric disease prevalence.