Medieval skeletons ‘give clues to leprosy origins’

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A strain of leprosy-causing bacteria recorded in the Middle East is the same as one present in a medieval skeleton found in Europe, according to a new study. The research, published in Science magazine, adds weight to the theory that the disease was carried by armies fighting for control of the Middle East between the 11th and 13th centuries.

Johannes Krause, one of the authors of the study, said: “One really surprising finding was that the DNA was so well preserved, better than any ancient DNA I have ever studied. This opens up the possibility to study the evolution of the disease in much older remains, to understand how it evolved and adapted to humans”.

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Tombstone of ‘earliest Roman resident’ to go on display

The tombstone of Oxfordshire’s earliest recorded resident has been reassembled following its accidental discovery during excavation of Alchester’s town gates. The memorial is that of Lucius Valerius Geminus, a veteran of the Second Augustan Legion, who is thought to have been between 49 and 52 years old at the time of his death.

  

Folk music archive launches online

A new digital archive telling the story of English folk music through more than 44,000 records and 58,000 images has been launched online. The Full English site, which combines 19 major collections and is free to access, has been created by the English Folk Dance and Song Society. 

Blake poem is a fake, librarian claims 

A poem commonly credited to William Blake was instead penned by 20th-century US writer Nancy Willard, according to a school librarian. Thomas Pitchford, who works in a secondary school in Hertfordshire, came to doubt Blake’s authorship of Two Sunflowers Move into the Yellow Room after comparing it to the style of the rest of the famous poet’s work.

  

Petition calls for pardon for 17th-century ‘witches’

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw is among the backers of an online campaign to pardon three witches who were condemned and hanged in Exeter in 1682. Author Christine Nash, who started the petition, believes that the three women were targeted due to their age or the fact that they suffered from a condition such as dementia.

  

Children ‘forced to perform’ on the Elizabethan stage

Kidnapping, sexual exploitation and whipping were among the threats endured by child performers in Elizabethan England, according to a new study. Dr Bart van Es, from the University of Oxford, studied court documents which show that theatrical troupes were permitted to abduct young people from the streets of London under legislation granted approval by Elizabeth I. 

  

BBC launches free D-Day ‘e-book’

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Interviews with some of the last survivors of D-Day feature in a new ‘e-book’ published by the BBC. The digital publication, BBC D-Day’s Last Heroes: In Their Own Words, has been released to tie in with Dan Snow’s recent TV series and is available both for iPad (requires iBooks 3.0) and online at www.bbc.co.uk/dday.