Altopascio skeletons show history of disease in Europe

For several years, biological anthropologist Giuseppe Vercellotti of The Ohio State University has led a field school in the Badia Pozzeveri Churchyard in Altopascio, Italy, where he and his students unearth and study the skeletons hoping "to read the history written in the bones." Of particular interest was a mass grave covered with a layer of lime. (photos)

Because the site is located on what was once a pilgrimage route, Vercellotti hopes that discoveries here will help understand the path of disease, possibly the Black Death, through Europe, by use of such tools as 3D computed tomography and DNA studies to search for ancient pathogens. “What you’re seeing at Badia Pozzeveri is hypothesis testing not only on bones, but also using pathogens and cultural factors,” says bioarchaeologist George Armelagos of Emory University in Atlanta, who is not part of the project. “It’s going to be the poster child for future work in bioarchaeology.”