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Origins of the Black Death revealed by new study

The Black Death is considered the deadliest plague in human history.

But despite years of research, its geographical and chronological origin has largely remained a mystery.

Now a new study claims to have solved the conundrum by tracing the disease back to 1338 in present-day Kyrgyzstan.

Researchers say the bubonic plague then spread across the Mediterranean via merchant ships, subsequently triggering a nearly 500-year wave of deadly diseases called the Second Plague Pandemic.

Up to 200 million people were killed when the Black Death swept across the Middle East and Europe between 1346 and 1353, wiping out half of all Londoners and up to 60 percent of Europeans.

Researchers believe the Black Death first originated in Kyrgyzstan in the late 1330s. They analyzed ancient DNA derived from the teeth of skeletons discovered in cemeteries.  Pictured is a tombstone inscription from the Chu Valley region of Kyrgyzstan.  The inscription is translated as follows: 'This is the tomb of the believer Sanmaq. [He] died of the plague [bubonic plague]†

Researchers believe the Black Death first originated in Kyrgyzstan in the late 1330s. They analyzed ancient DNA derived from the teeth of skeletons discovered in cemeteries. Pictured is a tombstone inscription from the Chu Valley region of Kyrgyzstan. The inscription is translated as follows: ‘This is the tomb of the believer Sanmaq. [He] died of the plague [bubonic plague]†

Pictured is an excavation of the KaraDjigach site, in Kyrgyzstan's Chu Valley in the foothills of the Tian Shan Mountains.  This was performed between the years 1885 and 1892

Pictured is an excavation of the KaraDjigach site, in Kyrgyzstan’s Chu Valley in the foothills of the Tian Shan Mountains. This was performed between the years 1885 and 1892

TIMELINE OF HOW BLACK DEATH SPREADS

A new study by an international team of researchers claims to have pinpointed the origin of the Black Death, believed to be the deadliest plague in human history.

Here’s the timeline of how experts think it spread next:

1338 – The disease originates in present-day Kyrgyzstan

1347 – Later it spreads across the Mediterranean via merchant ships to ports including Sicily

1348 – The plague reaches North Africa, mainland Italy, Spain, France and the UK

1349 – People in Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and Germany are also infected

1350 – The Black Death arrives in Scandinavia and the Baltic countries

It is believed to have arrived in the UK in 1348 on a ship that landed on the Dorset coast from Gascony in France, before spreading rapidly across the country.

The research team behind the new study was from the Scottish University of Stirling and Germany’s Max Planck Institute and the University of Tübingen.

They analyzed ancient DNA (aDNA) from the teeth of skeletons discovered in cemeteries near Lake Issyk Kul in the Tian Shan region of Kyrgyzstan.

The scientists were drawn to these sites after they noted a huge spike in burials there in 1338 and 1339, according to historian Dr. Philip Slavin of the University of Stirling, who helped make the discovery.

They found that the cemeteries, at Kara-Djigach and Burana, had already been excavated in the late 1880s, with about 30 skeletons taken from the graves, but were able to trace them and analyze DNA taken from the graves. teeth of seven people.

The sequencing, which determines DNA structure, showed that three individuals carried Yersinia pestis, a bacterium linked to the beginning of the Black Death outbreak before it arrived in Europe.

“Our study settles one of the largest and most fascinating questions in history and determines when and where the most notorious and infamous killer of humans began,” said Dr. Slavin.

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

dr. Maria Spyrou, from the University of Tübingen, and the study’s lead author, said: “Despite the risk of environmental contamination and no guarantee that the bacteria could be preserved, we were able to extract aDNA from seven individuals from two of these cemeteries.

“The most exciting thing was that we found aDNA of the plague bacterium in three individuals.”

Researchers have previously associated the initiation of the Black Death with a massive diversification of plague species, a so-called ‘Big Bang’ of plague diversity.

But the exact date of this event could not be precisely estimated and it was thought to have occurred sometime between the 10th and 14th centuries.

Pictured, depicting plague victims being buried during the Black Death.  The devastating pandemic of the bubonic plague ravaged Europe from 1346 to 1353

Pictured, depicting plague victims being buried during the Black Death. The devastating pandemic of the bubonic plague ravaged Europe from 1346 to 1353

Researchers analyzed ancient DNA (aDNA) from the teeth of skeletons discovered in cemeteries near Lake Issyk Kul in the Tian Shan region of Kyrgyzstan (pictured)

Researchers analyzed ancient DNA (aDNA) from the teeth of skeletons discovered in cemeteries near Lake Issyk Kul in the Tian Shan region of Kyrgyzstan (pictured)

View of the Tian Shan Mountains.  Studying ancient plague genomes, researchers have traced the origins of the Black Death to Central Asia, close to Lake Issyk Kul, in what is now Kyrgyzstan

View of the Tian Shan Mountains. Studying ancient plague genomes, researchers have traced the origins of the Black Death to Central Asia, close to Lake Issyk Kul, in what is now Kyrgyzstan

The research team has now assembled a complete ancient plague genome from the sites in Kyrgyzstan and examined how they might relate to the ‘Big Bang’ event.

Dr Spyrou said: ‘We found that the ancient species from Kyrgyzstan are positioned right at the nexus of this massive diversification event.

“In other words, we’ve found the source strain of the Black Death and we even know the exact date.”

She explained that the plague is not a human disease; the bacterium survives in wild rodent populations around the world, in so-called plague reservoirs.

The ancient Central Asian tribe that caused the 1338-1339 epidemic around Lake Issyk Kul must have emerged from such a reservoir, according to the researchers.

Co-senior author Professor Johannes Krause, of the Max Planck Institute, said: ‘We found that modern species most closely related to the ancient species are found today in pest reservoirs around the Tian Shan Mountains, so very close to where the ancient kind of laundry. found it.’

He added: “This points to an origin of the Black Death ancestor in Central Asia.”

The findings were published in the journal Nature

WHAT WAS THE CAUSE OF THE BUBBONIC BULLIES IN EUROPE?

The plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, was the cause of some of the world’s deadliest pandemics, including the Justinian Plague, the Black Death and the major epidemics that swept through China in the late 1800s.

The disease still affects populations around the world.

The Black Death of 1348 famously killed half the people of London within 18 months, with bodies piled five-deep in mass graves.

When the Great Plague of 1665 struck, a fifth of the people of London died, with victims 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 — believed to have come from fleas that fed on infected rats before biting humans and transferring the bacteria to them.

But modern experts dispute the dominant view that rats caused the incurable disease.

Experts point out that rats were not as common in Northern Europe, which was hit just as hard by the plague as the rest of Europe, and that the plague spread faster than humans would have been exposed to their fleas.

Most people would have had their own fleas and lice when the plague hit Europe in 1346, as they bathed much less often.

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