Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Southampton researchers claim leprosy came to UK from Scandinavia

Leprosy skeleton Image copyright PA
Image caption The skeleton was found in Essex in the 1950s and modern techniques were used to identify the strain of leprosy

A skeleton could reveal that leprosy spread to Britain from Scandinavia, archaeologists have claimed.

Researchers at the University of Southampton have been studying a 1,500-year-old skeleton found at Great Chesterford in Essex in the 1950s.

The bones show changes consistent with leprosy, such as narrowing of the toe bones and damage to the joints.

Tests conducted on the male skeleton, believed to be in his 20s, show that he may have come from Scandinavia.

The findings were published in online scientific journal PLOS ONE and confirmed he did have the disease.

Dr Sonia Zakrzewski, of the University of Southampton, said DNA testing was carried out to get a clear diagnosis.

She said: "Not all cases of leprosy can be identified by changes to the skeleton.

"Some may leave no trace on the bones, others will affect bones in a similar way to other diseases.

"In these cases, the only way to be sure is to use DNA fingerprinting, or other chemical markers characteristic of the leprosy bacillus."

The results link the leprosy strain (3I) to a lineage which has previously been found in burials from medieval Scandinavia and southern Britain, but this case from the 5th or 6th Centuries dates further back.

Isotopes from the man's teeth showed he probably did not come from Britain, but probably grew up in southern Scandinavia.

He could have brought the leprosy bacterium with him when he migrated to Britain.

Project leader Dr Sarah Inskip, of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, said this was one of the earliest cases identified in the UK.

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