Archaeologists and molecular biologists recently analyzed the contents of pottery shards from a burial mound in Germany and discovered traces of Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever virus. The discovery was remarkable for multiple reasons: it is the first discovery of a hemorrhagic fever virus in the archaeological record, and it is the first time this type of burial in pottery has been observed in this region.
Evidence suggests that a man contracted and died of Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever between 600 and 450 B.C.E, and his blood and organs were stored in pottery and buried in a burial mound. Over time, the contents of the pottery decayed, but they left a thin film of proteins on the insides of the vessels. When researchers analyzed the proteins, they surprisingly found traces of human blood proteins - but more surprisingly, they found evidence of CCHF virus as well. The CCHFV RNA did not survive the years, but they found peptides that CCHFV uses to bind to a host cell.
This discovery raises questions about CCHFV in ancient Germany - does this sample indicate a larger epidemic, or was it an isolated case? How did it get to Germany? In addition, it opens up the possibility that other pottery shards previously overlooked may in fact hold fascinating insights into the ancient viral world.
CCHFV is a Bunyavirus, so it has an enveloped virion and a three-segmented negative linear RNA genome. It is transmitted by tick bite and causes hemorrhagic fever in humans.
by Julia Daniel