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Live Chat: Secrets of the Grave

10 December 2013 10:45 am
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The guests are biological anthropologist Clark Spencer-Larsen of Ohio State University, Columbus, and evolutionary geneticist Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.

Today's guests. Clark Spencer-Larsen is a biological anthropologist at Ohio State University, Columbus, and Hendrik Poinar is an evolutionary geneticist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. Ann Gibbons is a contributing correspondent for Science.

This week, researchers described an ambitious project to study 1000 years of sickness and health in people buried since the year 1039 in one graveyard along a well-known pilgrimage route in Tuscany, Italy. By studying the skeletons of farmers, peasants, monks, and nobles, paleopathologists hope to find out what diseases killed people from medieval times until the present—and how their overall health fluctuated during famine, war, climate change, and other challenges. They are also using new tools, such as ancient DNA, to trace the origins and evolution of deadly pathogens that cause plague, TB, cholera, and other illnesses. Why is it important to study our ancestors' health? What are we learning from studying ancient diseases? And what impact can studying the evolution of pathogens have on treating or preventing modern epidemics?

Join us on Thursday, 12 December, at 3 p.m. EST on this page for a live video chat. Our guests will be two experts on studying ancient diseases with two different methods—using ancient DNA or studying fossil bones. Be sure to leave your queries for them in the comment box below.