Viral infections, neonatal mortality and the mystery of the Athenian Agora: An interview with Professor of Anthropology Maria Liston

Ioannis N Mammas, Demetrios A Spandidos
Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine 2017, 14 (4): 3341-3345
Although excavated almost 80 years ago, the infants' 'bone well' of the Athenian Agora in Athens, Greece and its contents were never thoroughly evaluated and published, until only recently, when a re-analysis of the whole excavation findings was performed. The well dates back to the third quarter of the 2nd century BC and contained at least 449 infants. The project, which explored the causes of neonatal mortality, found that one-third of infants' deaths were attributed to neonatal meningitis, based on the presence of bone disposition on the endocranial surface of the studied skulls. Despite the non-specific differential diagnostic approach of this pathophysiological finding in neonates, the determination of the causes of neonatal mortality in the Athenian Agora is really an impressive scientific attempt and can be a valuable lesson to all neonatal and peadiatric health professionals. According to Professor Maria Liston, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Waterloo in Canada, who was the principal investigator of the skeletons from the infants' 'bone well' of the Athenian Agora, neonatal meningitis was the most frequently detected cause of neonatal mortality. Viral diseases unquestionably contributed to neonatal mortality, she adds and highlights that further research is required in collaboration with physicians for the better understanding and interpretation of various archaeological findings related to neonatal mortality. In the context of the 3rd Workshop on Paediatric Virology, which will be held in October 7th, 2017 in Athens, Greece, Professor Liston will reveal the role of neonatal and paediatric viral infections in the Hellenic antiquity.

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