Genetic analysis shows ancient Europeans carried hepatitis, and the plague.

Delving into our ancient past evokes imagery of pottery shards, crumbling foundations and maybe the frisson-inducing flash of a mosaic floor. We tend not to imagine unearthing the Hepatitis B virus.

However, research led by Eske Willerslev, an evolutionary geneticist from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and published in the journal Nature, has found precisely that.

The team analysed the genomes of 314 people who lived in central and western Eurasia, extending from modern day Romania to Kazakhstan, mostly in the Bronze and Iron Ages. The oldest sample dates back more than 7000 years.

Twenty-five of the people had DNA evidence of Hepatitis B, a disease transmitted by sharing body fluids, including blood and semen, whose contemporary version infects 257 million people and killed just shy of 900,000 in 2015.

The researchers say this is the oldest ever virus recovered from the DNA of a human.

Read the full article in Cosmos magazine here