Journal Article

Migrating microbes: What pathogens can tell us about population movements and human evolution


The biology of human migration can be observed from our co-evolutionary relationship with infectious diseases. While many pathogens are brief, unpleasant visitors to our bodies, others have the ability to become life-long human passengers. The story of a pathogen’s genetic code may therefore provide insight into the history of its human host. The evolution and distribution of disease in Africa is of particular interest, because of the deep history of human evolution in Africa, the presence of a variety of non-human primates, and tropical reservoirs of emerging infectious diseases. Here, we explore which pathogens leave traces in the archaeological record, and whether there are realistic prospects that these pathogens can be recovered from sub-Saharan African archaeological contexts. We then present three stories of germs on a journey. The first is the story of HIV’s spread on the back of colonialism and the railway networks over the last 150 years. The second involves the spread of Schistosoma mansoni, a parasite which shares its history with the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the origins of fresh-water fishing. Finally, we discuss the tantalising hints of hominin migration and interaction found in the genome of human herpes simplex virus 2.

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Houldcroft, Charlotte J.
Ramond, Jean-Baptiste
Rifkin, Riaan F.
Undertown, Simon

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences\Department of Social Sciences


Year of publication: 2017
Date of RADAR deposit: 2017-04-07

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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