29th August: Mario Šlaus (Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts)
A history of paleopathological research in Croatia with emphasis on recent investigations dealing with the ways in which low intensity, endemic warfare affects health
This presentation deals with the manner in which scientists from a small country, often considered to be on the periphery of European science, can contribute to global knowledge. To this end I showcase the contributions of Croatian bioarchaeology and paleopathology throughout history, from the remarkable discoveries and analyses of Dragutin Gorjanović Kramberger in Krapina, through the interdisciplinary work of Franjo Ivaniček in the late forties and early fifties of the last century, all the way to contemporary paleopathological analyses carried out in Croatia. Several rare and interesting recent paleopathological findings are presented but special attention is given to population oriented studies. Specifically, I analyze the ways in which low intensity, endemic warfare afflicted the health of populations that were exposed to it. To this end, three large composite skeletal series, comprising more than 1500 skeletons are analyzed for the presence of osteological and dental markers of subadult stress, metabolic and dental diseases, and trauma.
30th August: Fred H. Smith, Maria O. Smith (Illinois State University)
Neandertal paleopathology: A tentative synthesis
The fossil human taxon that we colloquially refer to as Neandertals, is the most thoroughly studied pre-modern human skeletal sample known to science. There are several reasons for this: Neandertals have been known since the nineteenth century; there is a relatively large and well-preserved sample; and they have an enigmatic evolutionary relationship to anatomically modern Homo sapiens sapiens. As we all know, paleopathology has played a key role in the framing of the Neandertal phenotype. Surviving the original characterization of rickets and feeble-mindedness, the taxon became defined as stoop-shouldered and bent-kneed due to the misidentification of osteoarthritis in the La Chapelle-aux-Saints individual. Most paleopathological assessments of Neandertals have been case studies, however, broader queries have provided quality of life and lifestyle information based on (for example) the patterns of traumatic injuries, habitual posture, treatment of the ill and infirmed, and oral health. To date, this information has not been synthesized. The Croatian location of a paleopathological conference is a particularly fitting venue for such a synthesis given the significance of the Hrvatsko Zagorje region as the home of arguably the largest single-site Neandertal sample from Krapina. This site provides the unique opportunity to study paleopathology of a Neandertal “population.”
31st August: Kirsten I. Bos (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History)
Molecular detection of ancient pathogens in the era of big data
The past decade has demonstrated an impressive contribution from molecular methods for understanding the distribution and evolutionary history of a growing number of historical infectious diseases. With genomic analyses quickly becoming standard, analytical techniques have become increasingly specialized. This lecture will explore the brief but influential history of so-called “next-generation sequencing”, its application to the study of past disease, and current techniques that are used for detection of pathogen DNA in archaeological tissues. Using a New World colonial-era epidemic as a model study, I will offer perspectives on molecular preservation, taphonomic influence, as well as the challenges and benefits that accompany genome-level pathogen reconstruction and analysis.