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DNA Testing Reveals Why Athens Fell

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DNA testing has revealed a possible reason why the Athenian empire collapsed sometime around 430 BC.

DNA Testing and History

DNA testing is helping to unlock some of history’s greatest secrets. The BBC recently reported on a study in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases that sights typhoid as the reason for the fall of the Athenian empire.

DNA Testing Brings New Evidence

Until now history has relied on artifacts, documents and other empirical evidence from the period in question to build up a picture of events, but now DNA testing can shed new light and uncover clues previously locked away in the remains of the period.

Athens Falls To Its Knees

The type of plague which brought Athens to its knees has long been in debate but DNA testing was undertaken by a research team on three teeth found in an ancient cemetery in Athens that date back to the outbreak. Bubonic plague, measles and smallpox were all considered to be possible causes but the DNA testing revealed the organism that causes typhoid. The outbreak was pivotal in Greek history since this disease ended Athenian dominance of the classical world. It wiped out a third of the population including the city’s leader, Pericles.

DNA Testing On Ancient Teeth

DNA analysis on the ancient teeth pulp was compared to DNA profiles of various diseases and typhoid fever was found in all three samples. Previously, before the DNA testing, typhoid had been discounted as a possibility because a 5th Century Greek historian had described symptoms that did not match the disease. Scientists are now questioning whether typhoid has itself evolved and transformed into the disease we know today.

More DNA Testing

Although the DNA testing is not conclusive, it does provide clues – DNA testing on a wider spectrum of remains would be necessary in order to draw conclusions that could be confirmed on the disease that toppled Athens.

DNA Testing On Roman Skeleton

DNA testing is becoming more widely used by scientists researching diseases. British researchers used DNA testing to reveal traces of malaria in a 1,500-year old skeleton of a child from a Roman cemetery. The DNA testing revealed the earliest genetic evidence that malaria had plagued the classical Roman civilisations. Ancient DNA research and testing provides a new way of investigating the history of disease while also revealing new ways of looking at history. It is believed that the outbreak of malaria in AD 5 contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire.


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