Make No Bones About It: Cholera Research in Italy

A combined team of archaeologists and researchers, including Clark Larsen, professor of anthropology at the Ohio State University, are trying to better understand the lethal bacteria cholera.
The team of researchers are excavating an ancient graveyard on the grounds of the Badia Pozzerveri Church in Tuscany. The dig cite is in an area of the cemetery where cholera victims were buried. Most of the victims died in a epidemic that affected most of the world in 1850s.
By examining the remains of the victims researchers hope to learn has much as they can about how people lived and died in this region of Europe. These bodies are particularly well preserved because the dead victims were covered in lime before they were buried which preserved the bones particularly well. The researchers also found that the lime preserved the the DNA of bacteria and other organisms that lived in the humans buried there.
Although they have not yet found the cholera DNA they are looking for in any soil samples the researchers are hopeful. The goal is to find ancient cholera DNA and compare it to the modern strain—by documenting the evolution of the bacteria they hope to find a cure.

By examining the soil in the graveyard the team is learning a lot about ancient people’s lives. Larsen remarked that the research is like having a “thousand-year window” into the history of the village. The research is allowing them access to information about ancient people’s health and how they lived and died.
The project began in 2010 when the local community, Ohio State and the University of Pisa joined forces to study the site.