Winchester archaeologists help establish origins of leprosy

Dr Simon Roffey and Dr Katie Tucker recently contributed to research that has provided new insights into the genetic origins of leprosy. The research, published online by Science, is a genome-wide comparison of medieval and modern Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterium that causes leprosy. Co-authors Roffey and Tucker supplied the UK medieval skeletons, excavated from the high-profile‘leper hospital’ excavation. The analysis indicates skeletal evidence of leprosy in over 85% of the burials, the largest percentage recorded in Britain.

“I believe St Mary Magdalen was a pioneering hospital, created as a response to the sudden spread of leprosy in England,” said Dr Roffey. “This idea is further supported by the genome research that has revealed that the disease spread during the time of the Crusades. I think it might also be linked to the increased popularity of pilgrimage, especially to the Holy Land, during this period.”