(B) the child’s mummified body prior to the autopsy, (C) the pockmarked face and (D) this rash as evident on the arm.

Child Mummy Unlocks a Secret by Unravelling 450 Years of the Hepatitis B Virus

(Read the article on one page)

Scientists examining the mummy of a child who died in the 16th century have confirmed that the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) has been causing human health issues for centuries. Strangely enough, it seems that the ancient strain of HBV found in the mummy hasn’t changed much over the last 450 years.

The team of scientists sequenced a complete genome of an ancient HBV strain by examining the mummified remains of a two-year-old boy who died around 1569, according to Science Alert .

The child was originally buried in the Basilica of Saint Domenico Maggiore in Naples, Italy. When the body was exhumed about three decades ago, sometime between 1983 and 1985, researchers saw pockmarks in various parts of the body and believed smallpox (the Variola virus) had caused the child’s untimely death.

Pockmarks are visible on the face of the child mummy.

Pockmarks are visible on the face of the child mummy. ( JD Howell )

Science Alert reports that the immunostaining and electron microscopy conducted at the time seemed to confirm smallpox. That case became known as the oldest evidence for smallpox in Medieval remains – and it has been used as a time stamp for researchers interested in the origin of that illness.

Ideas will have to change because the DNA testing and scanning electron microscopy on samples of skin and bone from the child mummy showed no signs of the Variola virus. However, the researchers didn’t find any evidence of Hepatitis B through the use of scanning electron microscopy either; instead they found particles of an unknown virus, which led them to suggest mummification may have an effect on viral particle appearance.

The mummy wearing funerary dress in the coffin.

The mummy wearing funerary dress in the coffin. ( Patterson Ross, et al. )

Apart from the necessary change in the time stamp for smallpox, this study also demonstrates how difficult it can be to identify which infectious diseases plagued a past body. Researcher Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary geneticist with the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre and a principal investigator with the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, said, “These data emphasize the importance of molecular approaches to help identify the presence of key pathogens in the past, enabling us to better constrain the time they may have infected humans.”

The study may also help in modern times, when estimates suggest over 350 million people suffer from chronic Hepatitis B infections and about one-third of the total global population has been infected with HBV. As Poinar explained , “The more we understand about the behaviour of past pandemics and outbreaks, the greater our understanding of how modern pathogens might work and spread, and this information will ultimately help in their control.”

Hendrik Poinar, one of the researchers who identified the ancient Hepatitis B virus in the child mummy remains

Hendrik Poinar, one of the researchers who identified the ancient Hepatitis B virus in the child mummy remains. ( JD Howell )

The results of the study have been published online in the journal PLOS Pathogens .

Top Image: (B) the child’s mummified body prior to the autopsy, (C) the pockmarked face and (D) this rash as evident on the arm. Source: Patterson Ross, et al.

By Alicia McDermott

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Human Origins

Photo of Zecharia Sitchin (left)(CC0)Akkadian cylinder seal dating to circa 2300 BC depicting the deities Inanna, Utu, and Enki, three members of the Anunnaki.(right)
In a previous 2-part article (1), the authors wrote about the faulty associations of the Sumerian deities known as the Anunnaki as they are portrayed in the books, television series, and other media, which promotes Ancient Astronaut Theory (hereafter “A.A.T.”).

Ancient Places

Caves of Loltun, Mexico
It goes on speak about the challenges and wonders of Columbus’s voyage to the new lands known today as the Caribbean. It even goes on to mention Columbus’s blunder in assuming that this newly discovered land was India when in fact it was what we know today as the Bahamas.


Hopewell mounds from the Mound City Group in Ohio. Representative image
During the Early Woodland Period (1000—200 BC), the Adena people constructed extensive burial mounds and earthworks throughout the Ohio Valley in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Many of the skeletal remains found in these mounds by early antiquarians and 20th-Century archaeologists were of powerfully-built individuals reaching between 6.5 and eight feet in height (198 cm – 244 cm).

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article