The black plague pandemic that decimated the a large part of the European population in the Middle Ages came It was transported to Europe through the Mediterranean basin in 1346, transported by cargo ships from the Black Sea.
In just eight years, the so-called black death killed It affected about 60% of the population in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.
The epidemic disappeared. and came back. to appear in waves over 500 years.
A 675-year mystery
So far, one of the most talked about clues It was that the epidemic came from China, but no robust test allowed to verify that theory. Until now, it has been known that the Black Death epidemic arose from from Central Asia, in what is now Kyrgyzstan, according to the study published this Wednesday in the journal 'Nature', which puts an end to a 675-year-old mystery.
Thanks to the < strong>Human DNA extracted from remains of a 16th-century burial site innorthern Kyrgyzstan, investigators have been able to find the source. This discovery seems to put an end to a very old debate among historians.
“I was always fascinated by the Black Death, and one of my dreams was to solve the mystery of its origins”, explained the Specialist historian of catastrophes Phil Slavin, one of the authors of the study.
Two burial sites
This professor from the University of Stirling (Scotland) knew of the existence of two medieval funerary sites near the Issyk-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan, which had been explored in the late 19th century.
A hundred of the approximately 400 tombstones had precise dates, between 1338 and 1339. The epitaph mentioned an elliptical “death by pestilence” in Syriac.
These signs indicated an abnormal excess mortality within a community, seven or eight years; s before the Black Death reached Europe.
DNA from the teeth
To find the cause of death, the researchers obtained the DNA from the teeth belonging to seven skeletons.
“The dental pulp This is a valuable clue, because it is a highly vascularized area that offers great chances of detecting pathogens in the blood,” Maria Spyrou, from the German University of Tubingen, another author of the study, explained to the AFP agency. /p>
The DNA could be sequenced (an extremely difficult job because it was so fragmented) and then compared to a database containing the genomes of thousands of bacteria.
Verdict: The bodies had been removed. They have been infected with the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the bacillus responsible for the black plague.
This community was therefore victim of the same pandemic that later hit Mexico. to all of Europe years later.
Scientists precisely associate the appearance of the Black Death in Europe with a genetic Big Bang during which the bacteria that were the original strain of the plague, carried by rodent fleas They diversified massively. That event occurred in the first half of the fourteenth century.
“Not only have we found the ancestor of the Black Death, but also that of the plague strains currently circulating around the world,” added Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute.
No disease eradicated
Plague has not yet been eradicated:thousands of people contract this disease, particularly in Central Asia. In the Tien Shan mountains, marmots are the main animal reservoir of the disease.
However, thanks to antibiotics and the development of hygiene, the pandemic is a limited phenomenon .
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