Strains of leprosy native to Scandinavia found in Irish skeletal remains
Vikings may have brought leprosy to Ireland according to new research from three leading universities.
The Irish Examiner reports that research funded by The British Academy was conducted by Queens University Belfast, University of Surrey, and University of Southampton.
Professor Eileen Murphy from the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University Belfast said: “Ireland is of particular interest in the history of leprosy as it was never part of the Roman world, nor underwent any significant occupation by later Anglo-Saxon settlers.”
Professor Murphy added: “This study has revealed that despite its location on the western extremity of Europe, Ireland and, certainly, Dublin was not isolated."
Genetic investigations were carried out on the leprosy bacterium (M leprae) strains in two of the three Dublin individuals. The strains that were studied date back to the early 10th through the 13th century and revealed that the individuals had been affected by two types of leprosy.
One of the types had probable origins in Scandinavia, while the other most likely originated in the Middle East.
Further testing found that none of the three individuals would have been native to Dublin and, while one may have been from what it is now Britain or from the north of Ireland, tests showed the other two were native to Scandinavia.
Read more: How the Vikings forever changed Ireland
Professor Mike Taylor from the University of Surrey said: “As past leprosy strains evolved, the genetic fingerprint of an archaeological case of leprosy can tell us about the possible movements of that individual.”
While the results are “significant,” little is still known about leprosy in medieval Ireland.
Read more: Exploring Waterford's Viking past
* Originally published in Feb 2019.