Biomolecular archaeology of ancient tuberculosis: response to "Deficiencies and challenges in the study of ancient tuberculosis DNA" by Wilbur et al. (2009)

Helen D. Donoghue, Israel Hershkovitz, David E. Minnikin, Gurdyal S. Besra, Oona Y.C. Lee, Ehud Galili, Charles L. Greenblatt, Eshetu Lemma, Mark Spigelman, Gila Kahila Bar-Gal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is sixteen years since the first detection of Mycobacterium tuberculosis DNA in archaeological specimens, yet the validity of findings continues to be questioned. Rigorous scientific scrutiny and debate is valuable and has led to a coalescence of procedures and precautions amongst those actively engaged in this work. It is disappointing that these good practices are not recognised by certain scientists whose primary expertise is in the related fields of archaeology, palaeopathology, and eukaryote ancient DNA. There is a danger that by constant repetition, disputable and inadequately justified concerns will assume the status of self-perpetuating myths and misunderstandings. We discuss these issues with reference to a recent article in this journal, in which clear peer-reviewed scientific data were specifically targeted as part of a general critique of the field of the palaeomicrobiology of tuberculosis. We believe we have given sufficient evidence and cogent argument to persuade the unbiased reader that the views in the critique by Wilbur et al. are unjustified.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2797-2804
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The CARE, MAFCAF and Dan David Foundation supported the archaeological and anthropological work. A grant from The Leverhulme Trust (F/125/AK) for the work on lipid biomarkers is acknowledged; DEM benefited as a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow. MS is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for a trilateral project between German, Israeli and Palestinian researchers. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of Hershkovitz et al. (2008) or this manuscript.


  • Ancient DNA
  • Lipid biomarkers, molecular typing
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • PCR
  • Palaeopathology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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