Researchers unravel 700-year-old mystery of origins of deadly pandemic 'Black Death'
Finally, the 700-year-old mystery of the origins of the Black Death seems to have been solved by researchers. After in-depth study, the experts have traced it to Central Asia. Occurred in the mid-14th century, Black Death was one of the deadliest pandemic in history as it had swept across Asia, Europe and north Africa. This bubonic plague seems to have spread along trade routes. At that time, millions of people died. At two cemeteries near Lake Issyk-Kul in the north of modern-day Kyrgyzstan, the evidence has been discovered for surge in deaths in the late 1330s by Dr Philip Slavin, historian, University of Stirling. After this development, an international team was formed to unravel the mystery of the Black Death.
At these cemeteries, 467 tombstones dated between 1248 and 1345 were present. Among them, around 118 stones were dated 1338 or 1339. Slavin found that the reason for spike in deaths was “mawtānā” (Syriac language term), which means “pestilence” as mentioned on the tombstones.
In 1880s, the sites were excavated and 30 skeletons were removed from the graves. On studying the excavations, the team traced the remains to particular tombstones at the cemeteries. Further probe was carried out by ancient DNA specialists like Prof Johannes Krause of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Dr Maria Spyrou at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
On extracting the genetic material from the teeth of the skeletons, these experts found the DNA from Yersinia pestis in three people buried at the cemeteries. Yersinia pestis is the bacterium, which causes bubonic plague. The bacterium’s genome analysis revealed that it is an ancestor of the strain, which led to the Black Death in Europe some years later.
Krause said, “We have basically located the origin in time and space, which is really remarkable. We found not only the ancestor of the Black Death, but the ancestor of the majority of the plague strains that are circulating in the world today.”