Skip to comments.Clues to Roman Illnesses in 2,000-Year-Old Cheese
Posted on 10/10/2002 11:02:29 AM PDT by chance33_98
Clues to Roman Illnesses in 2,000-Year-Old Cheese
Oct. 9 By E. J. Mundell
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A tiny piece of cheese, carbonized in the volcanic eruption that killed the citizens of Pompeii, is yielding up secrets as to how ancient Romans ate, lived and died.
Using an electron microscope, anthropological researcher Dr. Luigi Capasso of the State University G. d'Annunzio in Chieti, Italy, has been able to pinpoint goats' milk cheese as a prime source of brucellosis--a debilitating joint disease that ravaged the ancient world.
"Roman cheese was an important and continuous source of possible infectious disease in the Roman world, including brucellosis," he told Reuters Health.
The findings are published in a recent issue of the Journal of Infection.
One night in late August, 79 AD, inhabitants of the great Roman city of Pompeii and the nearby coastal city of Herculaneum were woken by one of the most devastating volcanic eruptions in history as Mount Vesuvius hurled tons of lava and searing ash upon the coastal plain. In Herculaneum, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of 250 people who huddled in caves as they attempted to flee to the sea, their escape cut off by a 25-foot wall of volcanic mud.
The intense heat and then rapid cooling of the mud has left the bones--and even outlines of organs--of these victims in a remarkable state of preservation, allowing medical archaeologists much insight into diseases afflicting Romans in the first century.
According to Capasso, the bones of nearly one in five (17%) inhabitants of Herculaneum display lesions indicating a disease of the joints called brucellosis, caused by infection with the Brucella melitensis bacterium.
Brucella, primarily found in animals like sheep or goats, can be passed to humans via milk or milk products. The disease is relatively rare today, although it remains a source of debilitating arthritic illness in countries such as Yemen or Oman that rely heavily on goat or sheep herding for their milk supply.
But why did so many Romans suffer from this disease? The answer may come from a tiny dehydrated and carbonized piece of cheese, measuring 5 centimeters in diameter, unearthed in Herculaneum and dating from the time of the eruption.
"The cheese is perfectly preserved," Capasso said, so much so that he could still distinguish on the cheese's surface an impression of the basket in which it had been contained.
Capasso used an electron microscope to examine the internal structure of the cheese, and identified two distinct types of bacterial colonies. One, long and arranged in chains, is obviously the common Lactobacilli necessary to the cheese-making process. The other appears spherical, "arranged in large colonies"--very similar in form to Brucella.
Although the carbonization of the cheese makes it impossible to definitely identify the bacterium as Brucella, Capasso says his study "reveals, for the first time, a quantity of bacteria that shows food could, as is now the case, be the reason for human (carriage of Brucella) in an ancient time."
This type of medical archaeology has yielded up other secrets as to ailments afflicting everyday Romans two millenia ago. According to Capasso, "studies of ancient human bones can provide a vivid picture of the state of health of an ancient population."
In a previous study, human remains from the Herculaneum disaster have confirmed that many Romans suffered from head lice, lung ailments due to air pollution, and bone disorders linked to slave labor, as well as numerous diseases and nutritional deficits.
Cooking fires. And IIRC, the chimney hadn't been invented yet.
This is not a drill.
WE HAVE STRUCK CHEESE!
What an interesting place Rome must have been at that time........ lol......... continuous source of possible infectious disease.......
There had to be foundries to forge all that cool armor and swords. Lead was used to line the aquaducts.
Tanneries were foul places. Additionally there must have been plenty of kilns to fire for production of tiles for roofs, aquaducts, ect, not to mention art, urns and vases.
Finally, we know the Romans loved their bathhouses, they had to be heated also.
Of course, most likely the biggest culprit was the SUC, Sport Utility Chariot.
Um, the Romans had factories. If I recall correctly, pollution from some of their lead smelters was so bad, traces of it can easily be detected in Arctic ice cores.
Ooops. Just mentioned the same thing.
ROFL..........Sport Utility Chariots and Cheese Transmitted Diseases!!!!!!!!!! ROFL...........
Handy Latin Phrases
Non calor sed umor est qui nobis incommodat.
It's not the heat, it's the humidity.
Di! Ecce hora! Uxor mea me necabit!
God, look at the time! My wife will kill me!
Estne volumen in toga, an solum tibi libet me videre?
Is that a scroll in your toga, or are you just happy to see me?
Purgamentum init, exit purgamentum.
Garbage in, garbage out.
Credo nos in fluctu eodem esse.
I think we're on the same wavelength.
Lex clavatoris designati rescindenda est.
The designated hitter rule has got to go.
Te audire no possum. Musa sapientum fixa est in aure.
I can't hear you. I have a banana in my ear.
Sentio aliquos togatos contra me conspirare.
I think some people in togas are plotting against me.
Antiquis temporibus, nati tibi similes in rupibus ventosissimis exponebantur ad necem.
In the good old days, children like you were left to perish on windswept crags.
Caesar si viveret, ad remum dareris.
If Caesar were alive, you'd be chained to an oar.
Quantum materiae materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiari?
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Nihil curo de ista tua stulta superstitione.
I'm not interested in your dopey religious cult.
Quomodo cogis comas tuas sic videri?
How do you get your hair to do that?
Feles mala! Cur cista non uteris? Stramentum novum in ea posui.
Bad kitty! Why don't you use the cat box? I put new litter in it.
Romani quidem artem amatoriam invenerunt.
You know, the Romans invented the art of love.
(At a barbeque) Animadvertistine, ubicumque stes, fumum recta in faciem ferri?
Ever noticed how wherever you stand, the smoke goes right into your face?
I am not lost.
Hocine bibo aut in eum digitos insero?
Do I drink this or stick my fingers in it?
Vah! Denuone Latine loquebar? Me ineptum. Interdum modo elabitur.
Oh! Was I speaking Latin again? Silly me. Sometimes it just sort of slips out.
Playin' Ketchup again today......