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The Thousand-Year Graveyard

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Science  13 Dec 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6164, pp. 1306-1310
DOI: 10.1126/science.342.6164.1306

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In an ambitious project to study 1000 years of sickness and health, researchers are excavating the graveyard of the now-abandoned Abbey of St. Peter in Altopascio, Italy. The church sits along an ancient pilgrimage route, and by studying the skeletons of farmers and peasants, monks and nobles, paleopathologists hope to find out what diseases killed people from medieval times until the present, and how their health fluctuated during famine, war, and other challenges. They also are using new tools, such as ancient DNA, to trace the origins and evolution of deadly pathogens that cause plague, tuberculosis, cholera, and other illnesses.