Scientists have found the birthplace of the black death

(ORDO NEWS) — In this they were helped by the analysis of the DNA of people who died in the XIV century on the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan.

A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the University of Tübingen (Germany) and the University of Stirling (Great Britain) analyzed the DNA of seven people who died in the 14th century and were buried on the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan.

In the end, they came to the conclusion that the Black Death, apparently, originated in Central Asia.

The peak of the largest pandemic in human history – the so-called black death – came in the mid-1340s. The causative agent was the plague bacillus Yersinia pestis , which claimed the lives of 30-60 percent of the population of Europe.

Despite the huge demographic and social consequences, the “homeland” of the black death could not be established for a long time. However, it is known that in 1347 the plague first entered the Mediterranean thanks to ships carrying goods from the territories of the Golden Horde to the Black Sea regions.

The infection then spread throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, with repeated outbreaks occurring until the 19th century.

According to one of the most popular hypotheses about the origin of the Black Death, the pandemic originated, as usual, in East Asia, or rather, in China.

Meanwhile, the authors of the new work stated that the only available archaeological data come from Central Asia, from the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan, not far from the endorheic lake Issyk-Kul, the seventh deepest in the world.

As these finds showed, in 1338 and 1339 a certain epidemic raged in those places: during the excavations that were carried out in 1885-1892, it was possible to find the corresponding tombstones with inscriptions in Syriac (now a dead language of the Aramaic group, common at the beginning of our era). among the communities of the Middle East), talking about the “pestilence”.

Scientists have found the birthplace of the black death 2
The gravestone of a man named Sanmak, one of the victims of the plague (scientists, however, did not sequence his genome). An inscription in Syriac reads: “In the year 1649 [=1337-1338 AD] and that was the year of the Tiger.
The subject of study by German and British experts was ancient DNA extracted from human remains buried in burials in the villages of Kara-Dzhigach and Burana in the Chui Valley, as well as archaeological and historical data.

The team’s first results were encouraging: three people who died, according to tombstone inscriptions, as early as 1338, were identified with traces of Yersinia pestis . So the “unknown epidemic” was associated with the black death.

However, is it possible to say that the territory of the current Kyrgyz Republic was the “cradle” of the pandemic?

As suggested by the authors of previous works, the beginning of the Black Death is associated with an “explosion” of the diversity of plague strains ( Big Bang event of plague diversity ). The exact date of this event could not be established earlier: it probably happened between the 10th and 14th centuries.

Now scientists have put together the complete genomes of Yersinia pestis from Kyrgyzstan and analyzed how they correlate with the “explosion” mentioned above.

“We found out that the ancient strains from Kyrgyzstan are exactly in the “tangle” of this large-scale diversification event.

In other words, we were able to identify the original strain of the black death and even know the exact year of its appearance (1338th. – Approx. ed.) , ”said Maria Spirou from the University of Tübingen.

Since the causative agent of plague is the zoonotic bacterium Yersinia pestis , it initially affected the organisms of small mammals and their fleas: this natural focal disease spread in rodent populations around the world, and then passed to humans. This means that the ancient strain that caused the epidemic of 1338-1339 in the area of ​​Lake Issyk-Kul must be local.

“We found that the modern strains most closely related to the ancient strain can now be found in plague reservoirs around the Tien Shan mountain range, very close to where the ancient strain was identified.

This indicates that the ancestor of the Black Death came from Central Asia,” summed up Johannes Krause, senior author of the study and director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.


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