"Strain of hepatitis B found on a 4,500-year-old skeleton is the oldest human virus ever to be discovered" .
As promised by David Reich, research into ancient remains is yielding information that may help conquer some of our most deadly diseases.
Although HBV is now known to be millions of years old, scientists are trying to understand how and when it started infecting mammals and finally humans. Some theories suggest it was party to the OOA exodus, others say it may be more recent.
The infected Bell Beaker man was RISE563 from the cemetery of Osterhofen-Altenmarkt, Germany. In addition RISE386 from the Sintashta Culture in Russia and a number of other Scythian related groups of Asia have HBV infections of different variants.
The Bell Beaker and a few other individuals belong to a HBV sister clade of the Chimpanzee-Gorilla node, which these scientists points to a more recent infection from Africa spreading into Eurasia. But a cluster HBV clades in Asian steppe pastoral cultures point to some variants having a deeper history in Eurasia, however deep.
The position taken in this paper is that HBV diversity in moderns is not that informative in light of the high mobility seen in these samples and in recent papers. (In fact, this grave at Altenmarkt was shown by Douglas Price et al years ago to belong to a high mobility isotopic group) With that and the extinction of this old clade, the scientist claim that HBV may be overwriting its geographic positions and that the only way to formulate a hypothesis of its human relationship is through direct evidence on ancient human remains.
* News outlets are reporting that the oldest sample is 7,000 years old. That's because they cut and paste each other without reading the paper. RISE563 is the oldest reported in this paper.
"Ancient hepatitis B viruses from the Bronze AGe to the Medieval period"
Nature 2018. Muhlemann, Willerslev et al. doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0097-z