Boone - Anthropologists have discovered 4,000-year-old skeleton in India that clearly bears lesions from leprosy. The report in PLoS ONE (2009; 4: e5669) is the oldest reference to the disease to date. The skeleton of middle-aged man had erosions in the nasal bone and maxilla, which Gwen Robbins of Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina said is typical of advanced leprosy. In addition, there were degenerative changes in the joints and periostitis of the tibia, which confirmed the suspicion that it was leprosy and not some other bone infection. The final proof is still pending. It could be obtained by detecting DNA in the bone remnants. The genome of Mycobacterium leprae was deciphered few years ago. Some scientists concluded from the gene sequence that leprosy originated in Africa; other researchers suspect that it originated in India, from where the first literary descriptions of the disease come.
In the Atharvaveda, collection of sacred Hindu texts dating from before 1,000 BC. leprosy is mentioned. Ancient Egyptian papyri and the Bible, in which leprosy is referred to as leprosy, are also reasonably reliable sources. Historians suggest that the disease came to Europe with the army of Alexander the Great. These assumptions could be clarified by comparing the gene sequences in different bone finds. The researchers agree that the spread of leprosy is linked to the development of cities. The risk of infection is very low. Chains of infection require many people to live together in small space.