A three-year-old excavation at the graveyard of the Abbey of St. Peter in Lucca, Italy, is yielding something more than archaeologists initially expected, and they’re not just talking about bones and other grave features and artifacts. While excavating, they stumbled upon a mass grave of human remains that contain evidence of an ancient cholera outbreak.
Led by Giuseppe Vercellotti and Clark Larson from Ohio State University and Hendrik Poinar from McMaster University, the researchers at the site have collected samples of ancient DNA from both humans and bacteria, hoping to find answers to questions about how past epidemics, such as the bubonic plague, developed, spread and devastated historic human populations in Europe. Read more.
This was the dig that I actually participated in the summer of 2013. Dr. Vercellotti believes the remains are from a cholera outbreak due to the presence of lime lining the burial pits, which was believed at the time to prevent the disease from spreading. I regrettably did not have much exposure to the remains, however my team did uncover the remaining walls of the medieval monastery cloister (which the locals were more excited about than the human remains, so there!)
If you are interested in more information, check out the article written about the site in science magazine, written by Ann Gibbons, a lovely person who stayed with us for a week.
You can also view more pictures of the site and the human remains here (the site is in Italian)