It isn’t often my two favorite hobby fields come together. But history and science intersected in my blog reading today:
Observations of smallpox-typical skin rashes on Egyptian mummies dating from 1100 to 1580 B.C. gave credibility to theories that ancient Egypt was an early (and perhaps the earliest) smallpox endemic region. However, smallpox researchers noted that “The most striking thing about smallpox is its absence from the books of the Old and New Testaments, and also from the literature of the Greeks and Romans. Such a serious disease as variola major is very unlikely to have escaped a description by Hippocrates if it existed.” Historical records from Asia describe evidence of smallpox-like disease in medical writings from ancient China (1122 B.C.) and India (as early as 1500 B.C.). The earliest unmistakable description of smallpox first appears in the 4th century A.D. in China, the 7th century A.D. in India and the Mediterranean, and the 10th century A.D. in southwestern Asia. These early Asian descriptions could indicate that pandemic smallpox originated in East Asia. Sequence analysis indicates that divergence between VARV and rodent poxviruses occurred from 16,000 YBP to 68,000 YBP, and that VARV seems to have evolved from a pathogen of African rodents and subsequently spread out of Africa.