The Black Death is considered the deadliest plague in human history. But despite years of research, its geographical and chronological origins have been largely a mystery.
Now, a new DNA study of the victims of the bubonic plague says that it broke the riddle by continuing the disease until 1338 in present-day Kyrgyzstan.
Researchers have recovered ancient DNA traces of the pest bacterium Yersinia pestis from the teeth of three women buried in a medieval Christian Nestorian community who died in 1338-1339.
The earliest documented deaths elsewhere in the pandemic were in 1346.
Reconstruction of the genome of the pathogen showed that this strain caused not only the Black Death that ravaged Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, but also most of the strains that exist today.
Researchers say the bubonic plague spread across the Mediterranean via the old Silk Road trade route, almost 500 years before the outbreak of a deadly disease, known as the Second Pandemic Pandemic.
200 million people died between 1346 and 1353 when the Black Death swept across the Middle East and Europe, killing half of all Londoners and up to 60 percent of Europeans.
Researchers believe that the Black Death originated in Kyrgyzstan in the late 1330s. They examined ancient DNA taken from the teeth of skeletons found in cemeteries. Pictured is a tombstone inscription in the Chu-Valley region of Kyrgyzstan. The inscription reads: “This is the tomb of the faithful Sanmaq. [He] he died of a plague [bubonic plague]’
Pictured is an excavation at the KaraDjigach site in the Chu Valley of Kyrgyzstan, at the foot of the Tian Shan Mountains. This was accomplished between 1885 and 1892
HOW CHRONOLOGY SPREADED THE BLACK DEATH
A new study by a team of international researchers says that it has established the origin of the Black Death, which is the deadliest plague in human history.
Here is the timeline of what the experts think:
1338 – The disease originates in today’s Kyrgyzstan
1347 – Later it spreads across the Mediterranean by merchant ships to the ports of Sicily, as well as perhaps by the Silk Road.
1348 – The plague reaches North Africa, mainland Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom
1349 – It also infects people in Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and Germany
1350 – The Black Death reaches Scandinavia and the Baltic countries
The Silk Road traveled from China to the famous cities of Central Asia, from the Byzantine capital to points including Constantinople and Persia, a land route for caravans carrying a large number of goods.
It could also have served as a death path if the pathogen had roamed the caravans.
“There have been several hypotheses suggesting that the pandemic originated in East Asia, specifically China, Central Asia, India, or the first outbreaks in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions in 1346, may have been close to where it was documented.” main authors.
“We know that trade was probably a decisive factor in the spread of the plague in Europe at the beginning of the Black Death. It is reasonable to assume that the spread of the disease between 1338 and 1346 was conditioned by similar processes in Central Asia to the Black Sea.
Researchers have previously linked the onset of the Black Death to the massive diversification of pests, the so-called “Big Bang” of pest diversity.
But the exact date of this event could not be calculated in detail, and X. and XIV. it was believed to have occurred sometime between the centuries.
The research team has compiled the entire genome of the ancient plague at the Kyrgyz sites and investigated how it might be related to the ‘Big Bang’ event.
Dr. Maria Spyrou, the first author of the study at the University of Tübingen, said: “We have found that the ancient strains of Kyrgyzstan are located at the node of this event of mass diversification.
“In other words, we found the origin of the Black Death and we know its exact date.”
The Black Death is thought to have reached the United Kingdom in 1348 on a ship that landed on the Dorset coast of Gascony, France, before spreading rapidly throughout the country.
In the picture, a representation of the plague victims buried in the Black Death. The pandemic of bubonic plagues devastated Europe from 1346 to 1353
Researchers examine ancient DNA (aDNA) taken from the teeth of skeletons found in cemeteries near Issyk Kul Lake in the Tian Shan region of Kyrgyzstan
View of Tian Shan Mountains. By studying the genomes of ancient plagues, researchers located the origins of the Black Death in Central Asia, near Lake Issyk Kul, in what is now Kyrgyzstan.
WHAT IS THE SILK PATH?
The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes across the Asian continent, connecting Japan and Europe to the east.
Its name comes from the profit of the silk trade that took place across the continents around 200 BC.
The road was once crowded with bustling cities, desert oases, and market towns, but little is known about how the roads were originally built.
Archaeologists from the Max Planck Institute and the Russian Academy of Sciences have discovered that 4,000 years ago domestic animals (cows, sheep, and goats) were moving through the corridors of the high mountains.
The research team behind the new study was the University of Stirling in Scotland and the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the University of Tubing.
Ancient DNA (aDNA) was taken from the teeth of skeletons found in cemeteries near Issyk Kul Lake in the Tian Shan region of Kyrgyzstan.
Scientists were attracted to these sites in 1338 and 1339 after identifying a large increase in the number of burials there, according to Stirling University historian Philip Slavin, who helped make the discovery.
The cemeteries, Kara-Djigach and Burana, were found to have been excavated in the late 1880s, and about 30 skeletons were exhumed from the graves, but they were able to trace them and examine the DNA taken from the teeth of seven individuals.
Sequencing of the structure of DNA showed that three individuals carried Yersinia pestis, a bacterium associated with the onset of the outbreak of the Black Death before reaching Europe.
“Our research stops one of the biggest and most fascinating questions in history and determines when and where the most notorious and evil killer of humans began,” Dr. Slavin said.
Part of his work was to study the historical diaries of the original excavations, linking the individual skeletons to their tombstones, carefully translating the inscriptions written in the Syrian language.
The Silk Road is a complex system of trade routes linking East and West Eurasia through its dry inland mainland. Its name comes from the profit of the silk trade that took place across the continents around 200 BC.
Dr. Spyrou said: “Although we did not guarantee the risk of environmental contamination and the preservation of bacteria, we were able to sequence DNA from seven individuals taken from two of these cemeteries.
“The most exciting thing is that we found the DNA of the plague bacterium in three people.”
He explained that the plague is not a human disease; the bacterium survives in populations of wild rodents around the world in so-called pest depots.
Researchers say that the ancient Central Asian strain that caused the 1338-1339 epidemic around Lake Kul must have come from such a reservoir.
“We found that modern strains most closely associated with the ancient strain are now found in pest depots near the Tian Shan Mountains, very close to where the ancient strain was. ‘
He added: “This indicates the origins of the ancestor of the Central Asian Black Death.”
The findings were published in the journal Nature.
WHAT WAS THE CAUSE OF EUROPEAN BUBONIC PESTS?
The plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis was the cause of some of the deadliest pandemics in the world, including the Justinian plague, the Black Death, and major epidemics that swept through China in the late 1800s.
The disease continues to affect populations around the world today.
The Black Death of 1348 killed half the people of London in 18 months, accumulating five depths in mass graves.
When the Great Plague struck in 1665, one-fifth of the people in London died, the victims were locked in their homes and a red cross painted on the door with the words “Lord, have mercy on us.”
The pandemic spread from Europe in the 14th and 19th centuries. It is believed to have originated from fleas that fed on infected rats before being bitten by humans and transmitted by bacteria over the centuries.
But modern experts question the main view that rats caused an incurable disease.
Experts say that rats were not as common in northern Europe as the plague hit as hard as in the rest of Europe, and that the plague spread faster than humans could have been under the influence of fleas.
Most of them had their own fleas and lice, when the plague reached Europe in 1346, because they bathed much less often.
THE MYSTERY OF THE BLACK DEATH SOLVED: The outbreak of the bubonic plague began in Kyrgyzstan in 1338
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