The Black Death: Researchers are solving an ancient mystery about the origin of the plague

Researchers are solving an ancient puzzle
The origin of the Black Death was discovered

Already during the Great Plague of the late Middle Ages, people addressed the question of where the pandemic began. Seven centuries later, the answer seems to have been found. Tombstones and human bones provide a crucial guide.

In the 14th century, 60 percent of Western Europeans died within eight years of the so-called black death, the plague. As with coronavirus, there has long been speculation as to where this devastating pandemic began. An international research team has now found the answer to this question. The researchers published their findings in the journal “Nature”.

One of the most popular theories lists the source of the infection in East Asia, specifically China. However, the only archaeological finds available so far came from Central Asia. Finds near Lake Issyk-Kul in present-day Kyrgyzstan showed that an epidemic swept the local community between 1338 and 1339.

Tombstones written in Syrian were found there almost 140 years ago, suggesting that people died during those years from an unknown epidemic or “plague”. In addition, an above-average number of funerals took place in a very short time.

Clear evidence of the origin of the plague

In their study, an international research team analyzed ancient DNA from human bones as well as historical and archaeological data from two places where the inscriptions “plague” were found. Plague bacteria were found on tombstones in three out of seven people with the year 1338/39 Yersinia pestis prove. It was the ancestor of all other known plague genomes from the 14th century.

“We were finally able to prove that the epidemic mentioned on the tombstones was actually caused by the plague,” said Phil Slavin, one of the study’s lead authors and historians at the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom, in a statement from the British University. Max Planck Institute cited for evolutionary anthropology.

Before the plague spread around the world in the 14th century, experts suspected a kind of big bang that could result in a massive diversification of plague tribes. The research team assigns this event to a finding near Lake Issyk-Kul. According to Tübingen archaeogenetics Marie Spyrou, ancient bacterial strains from Kyrgyzstan are located right at the center of this massive diversification event. “In other words, we found the original Black Death tribe and even know its exact date.”

The pathogen survived in animals

The researchers also studied how the plague tribe got to this place. Has it developed locally or has it spread elsewhere in this region? They point out that plague bacteria survive in wild rodent populations around the world, in so-called plague tanks.

Therefore, the ancient Central Asian tribe that caused the epidemic around Lake Issyk-Kul in 1338/39 must have come from such a reservoir. “We have found that the modern tribes closest to the ancient tribe are now found in plague reservoirs around the Tian Shan Mountains, very close to where the ancient tribe was found. This suggests that this is the origin of the Black Death ancestor in Central Asia. , ”Explains Johannes Krause, the first author of the study and director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

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