British scientists said the “truly remarkable” discovery was on a par with finding the first fossils.
Previously, the oldest dated back around 450 years. The hepatitis B virus has many mutations that no longer exist - and the information could help us prepare for dangerous new strains, scientists said.
The discovery was made by carrying out DNA sampling on a Bronze Age skeleton in Osterhofen, Germany, part of a study of 300 skeletons from central and western Eurasia between 200 and 7000 years old. The hepatitis B skeleton belonged to the “Bell Beaker’”culture, so-called because of the bell-shaped pottery cups left behind.
The study, published in the journal Nature, said it was not previously known that viruses could become extinct. Joint lead author Barbara Muhlemann, a Cambridge University PhD student, said: “People have tried to unravel the history of HBV for decades. This study transforms our understanding of the virus.” - Daily Mail