During the past 10 years palaeomicrobiology, a new scientific discipline, has developed. The study of ancient pathogens by direct detection of their DNA has answered several historical questions and shown changes to pathogens over time. However, ancient DNA (aDNA) continues to be controversial and great care is needed to provide valid data. Here we review the most successful application of the technology, which is the study of tuberculosis. This has provided direct support for the current theory of Mycobacterium tuberculosis evolution, and suggests areas of investigation for the interaction of M tuberculosis with its host.