First Iron Age TB victim in Britain 'brought disease from Europe'

Britain's earliest known case of tuberculosis exists in a man who died in his mid-30s around 2,200 years ago and fresh analysis has revealed more about his life.

The so-called Tarrant Hinton Man was first discovered during excavations in Dorset that started in 1967 and lasted for 18 years.

DNA studies in 2002 confirmed his TB diagnosis and new research, funded by a grant from South West Museum Development, reveals he may have died in England, but was born elsewhere in Europe, either in Ireland, France or Spain. 

While TB was not prevalent in the British Isles until the first century AD, it is believed the disease was prominent elsewhere on the continent for thousands of years. 

Experts believe the man moved to England as an eight-year-old child and may have already been infected with TB bringing it to Britain.  

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Pictured, the skeleton of an Iron Age man with signs of tuberculosis in his lower spine at the Museum of East Dorset. To the right of the skeleton is a replica of the same part of the spine of a healthy person. The man would have needed to use a stick or crutch. His Iron Age community must have cared for him, despite his illness, or he would not have survived for so long

Pictured, the skeleton of an Iron Age man with signs of tuberculosis in his lower spine at the Museum of East Dorset. To the right of the skeleton is a replica of the same part of the spine of a healthy person. The man would have needed to use a stick or crutch. His Iron Age community must have cared for him, despite his illness, or he would not have survived for so long

The skeleton is permanent displayed at the Museum of East Dorset in Wimborne and isotope analysis was done on the bones to determine the origin of the individual. 

This specific form of study looks at the concentration of specific variations of elements hidden in the bones and teeth. 

Some are more common in specific regions than others, allowing researchers to narrow down where an ancient person lived. 

His wisdom teeth, which grew between the ages of eight and 14, reveal the Tarrant Hinton Man was living on the southern British chalklands at this time.

TB is a destructive disease which can cause the bones of the spine to collapse. The changes caused by TB in the vertebrae would have resulted in approximately 60˚ kyphosis (curvature of the spine)

TB is a destructive disease which can cause the bones of the spine to collapse. The changes caused by TB in the vertebrae would have resulted in approximately 60˚ kyphosis (curvature of the spine)

The results of the isotope analysis confirm that the Iron Age man came from outside Britain, from an area of Carboniferous Limestone. This type of rock is found in south or west Ireland, on the Atlantic coasts of southwest France and in the Cantabrian Mountains of Northern Spain (red areas)

The results of the isotope analysis confirm that the Iron Age man came from outside Britain, from an area of Carboniferous Limestone. This type of rock is found in south or west Ireland, on the Atlantic coasts of southwest France and in the Cantabrian Mountains of Northern Spain (red areas)

But other teeth which had been present for much longer indicate he grew up in an area rich in Carboniferous Limestone.

This is common in South or West Ireland, on the Atlantic coasts of South West France and in the Cantabrian Mountains of Northern Spain.

Dr Simon Mays, Human Skeletal Biologist for Historic England said: 'The isotope evidence is tantalising. Perhaps he caught his disease in mainland Europe. 

The facemask that can spot tuberculosis 

A facemask being tested by the NHS can diagnose tuberculosis early.

The gadget, designed with the help of British scientists, can detect disease bacteria expelled by a suspected patient's mouth after they wear it for just half an hour.

Researchers say the 'world-changing' technology could save millions of lives a year by giving a rapid diagnosis. 

In a study of tuberculosis (TB) patients, the mask correctly identified the life-threatening disease 86 per cent of the time.

This compared with 20 per cent from a typical diagnostic tool which involves taking a sample of phlegm from inside the lungs, which is not always reliable.  

The mask is now being trialled at an NHS TB service in Leicester, and is expected to save thousands

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