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Ground Zero for the Black Death finally found after 600 years

The Dance of Death, created by Michael Wolgemut in 1493, inspired by the Black Death. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

The Dance of Death, created by Michael Wolgemut in 1493, inspired by the Black Death. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

The origins of the deadly Black Death were discovered more than 600 years after it entered human populations, scientists said.

The medieval bubonic plague was first recorded in the 14th century and was the start of a nearly 500-year-long wave of deadly diseases known as the Second Plague Pandemic.

The Black Death killed millions and was considered one of the greatest infection disasters in human history.

Despite years of research, the geographic and chronological origin of the disease remained a mystery.

However, researchers said they believe the Black Death first arose in northern Kyrgyzstan in the late 1330s.

The team from Scotland’s University of Stirling and Germany’s Max Planck Institute and University of Tübingen analyzed ancient DNA (aDNA) extracted from the teeth of skeletons found in cemeteries near Lake Issyk-Kul in the Tian Shan region discovered in Kyrgyzstan.

A view of the Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan, the region in Central Asia where researchers studying ancient plague genomes have pinpointed the origins of the Black Death in the 14th Lyazzat Musralina/Handout via REUTERS. NO RESALE. NO ARCHIVES. THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

A view of the Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan, the region in Central Asia where researchers studying ancient plague genomes have traced the Black Death’s origins back to the 14th century. (Image credit: Reuters)

They were drawn to these sites after noting a huge increase in the number of burials there in 1338 and 1339, according to historian Dr. Philip Slavin from the University of Stirling who was involved in the discovery.

The team found that the cemeteries at Kara-Djigach and Burana had been excavated as early as the late 1880s with about 30 skeletons extracted from the graves, but were able to trace them back and analyze DNA from the teeth of seven people.

Sequencing, which determines the DNA structure, showed that three people carried Yersinia pestis, a bacterium linked to the start of the Black Death outbreak, before it arrived in Europe.

“Our study answers one of history’s greatest and most intriguing questions, establishing when and where the most notorious and infamous killer of humans began,” said Dr. Slavin.

Part of his work consisted of studying the historical diaries of the original excavations in order to match the individual skeletons to their tombstones, and carefully translating the inscriptions, which were written in Syriac.

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The tombstone of ‘Sanmaq’, a plague victim. (Image credit: Getty)

dr Maria Spyrou from the University of Tübingen and first author of the study said: “Despite the risk of environmental contamination and with no guarantee that the bacteria would have been preserved, we were able to sequence aDNA from seven bacterial individuals excavated from two of these cemeteries.

“Most excitingly, we found aDNA from the plague bacterium in three individuals.”

Professor Johannes Krause from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig added: “Just like Covid, the Black Death was an emerging disease and the beginning of a huge pandemic that lasted about 500 years.

“It’s very important to understand the circumstances under which it came about.”

The origins of the Black Death have been debated by historians for centuries and postulated by medieval chroniclers since its appearance in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa 675 years ago.

The research study The source of the Black Death in 14th-century central Eurasia was published in the journal Nature.

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https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/16/ground-zero-for-the-black-death-finally-found-after-600-years-16837039/ Ground Zero for the Black Death finally found after 600 years

Justin Scacco

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