Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-2017

Capstone Advisor

Shannon Novak/Anthony Garza

Honors Reader

Diane Wiener

Capstone Major


Capstone College

Arts and Science

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories



Tuberculosis is one of the most ubiquitous diseases in human history. Despite the long history of human interactions with the disease, tracking it retroactively is difficult because of its low rate of associated, diagnostic bony changes. Ancient DNA, also called aDNA, is a novel method for examining the presence of disease in the past. Currently, the only way to isolate tuberculosis aDNA is to drill and section bone, a method that is both invasive and expensive, limiting its use in the archaeological record. This capstone examines new ways of tracking and understanding tuberculosis in the past, utilizing the DNA trapped in calcified dental plaque, or dental calculus.

Tuberculosis DNA has never been isolated from dental calculus before. In this paper, I report the first-ever successful isolation of tuberculosis aDNA from the dental calculus of 13 individuals from the Smithsonian’s Huntington Collection (1893-1921). Calculus from two unaccessioned mandibles, as well as calculus from four Irish immigrants tested positive for tuberculosis, illustrating that dental calculus is a good reservoir for tuberculosis aDNA. Two of the Irish immigrants had no other indicators of tuberculosis, either skeletal or archival, and their identification as tubercular enriches our understandings of their lives, illustrating the fruitfulness of this technique.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Included in

Anthropology Commons



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