Ancient Skeletal Evidence for Leprosy in India (2000 B.C.)

Skeletal remains from Balithal, Rajasthan
The excavation site in Balathal, Rajasthan

In this article, the authors report on skeletal evidence from 2000 BCE at the site of Balathal, in Rajasthan, India, in an attempt to document the oldest evidence for leprosy.

Balithal has two phases of occupation - a small occupation in the Early Historic period (cal. BCE 760 - CE 380) and a large Chalcolithic settlement (cal. BCE 3700–1820). According to the authors, "The Chalcolithic people of Balathal lived in stone or mud-brick houses, made wheel thrown pottery, copper implements, and practiced dry field agriculture focused on barley (Hordeum vulgare) and wheat (Triticum spp.). The Chalcolithic deposit demonstrates evidence of Harappan influences in the classical tan ware ceramics, which resemble Harappan red ware in manufacture, fabric, firing, and vessel forms. Copper objects include razor blades, knives, chisels, arrow heads, spearheads, and axes. Two burials were recovered from the 1994–1997 excavations of the Chalcolithic deposit—individuals 1997-1 and 1997-2. Three additional burials were recovered in the 1999–2002 excavations of the Early Historic period—individuals 1999-1, 1999-2, and 1999-3."

The article presents an analysis of pathological conditions in the skeletal remains of a middle aged adult male skeleton, 1997-1, from the second millennium BCE. Based on these changes to the skeleton and the presence and patterning of lesions, the authors conclude that lepromatous leprosy was present in India by 2000 BCE. Furthermore, their results indicate that "Vedic burial traditions in cases of leprosy were present in northwest India prior to the first millennium BCE," and that translations of early Vedic scriptures are the first textual reference to leprosy.

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