Monday, June 27, 2022

The Black Death originated in northern Kyrgyzstan, scientists say, and reached Britain a decade later

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Identifying the birthplace of the Black Death, which reached Europe in the 1340s and wiped out 45 percent of the population, ends a 675-year mystery

Scientists have found that the Black Death, one of the greatest infectious disease catastrophes in human history, began in northern Kyrgyzstan in the late 1330s.

The significant find solves the 675-year-old mystery of the origins of the bubonic plague, which came to Europe in the 1340s and wiped out 45 percent of the population in its first wave.

Scientists made their discovery after analyzing ancient DNA from the teeth of skeletons found in burial sites in the Tian Shan region of Central Asia whose tombstones said they had died of “plague.”

The teeth were found to contain the Yersinia pestis Plague bacterium that could be traced back to the beginnings of the Black Death outbreak – before it came to Europe.

“Until now, the geographical and chronological origins of the Black Death have been debated but unknown,” said Dr. Philip Slavin, a University of Stirling historian who was part of the team involved in the discovery.

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

Since the 14th century, scientists have theorized the origin of the Black Death that started the 500-year-old second plague pandemic.

It has been suggested that it started in China, Central Asia, Mongolia, India, western Siberia, the Ural Mountains, and between the Black and Caspian Seas.

“The two leading hypotheses were China and Central Asia,” said Dr. Slavin. “To solve this riddle, [ancient] DNA from east-west Eurasia was needed.”

dr Slavin and his colleagues from Germany examined specimens from two cemeteries near Lake Issyk-Kul in modern-day northern Kyrgyzstan “after noting a huge increase in the number of burials there in 1338 and 1339”.

While the site was being excavated in the late 1880s to remove 30 skeletons from their graves, scientists were able to track them down and analyze the DNA from the teeth.

“To my astonishment, this confirmed the beginning of the second plague epidemic,” said Dr. Slavin.

According to their tombstones, which are written in Syriac, the individuals died from an unknown epidemic or “plague.”

dr Maria Spyrou from the University of Tübingen in Germany and first author of the study published in the journal Naturesaid the team managed to sequence ancient DNA from seven people “despite the risk of environmental contamination and no guarantee that the bacteria could have survived.

“We found the most exciting [ancient] Plague bacterium DNA from three individuals.”

It is possible that the Black Death originated from local marmots, one of the most widespread disease vectors in the Tian Shan, before spreading to humans.

dr Slavin said: “Given today’s pressures [of the plague] in Tian Shan are very similar to the 1338-9 strain, it is very plausible that the 1338-9 strain originated and evolved in local marmot plague reservoirs of the Tian Shan region, and not in a distant region.”

The Black Death traveled from Asia to Europe with flea-infested rats living on merchant ships, with the first documented case in England being traced back to June 1348.

At a time when poor sanitation was rampant, fleas quickly transmitted the disease to humans, who then spread it among themselves.

The researchers have not investigated how exactly the Black Death got from Kyrgyzstan to Europe. However, they suggested that the two Nestorian Christian communities living near Lake Issyk-Kul, in the heart of the Silk Road, were involved in international trade.

dr Slavin said: “In our article we addressed the fact that the local Christian community in Kara-Djigach, from which our sequenced samples originate, was involved in long-distance trade across Eurasia, and it was this cross-regional trade that may have been a crucial factor , which contributed to the spread of the plague.”

The discovery of the black plague is crucial for understanding emerging epidemic diseases, according to the researchers.

dr Slavin said, “It’s always important not to treat different phyla as isolated phenomena, but as something that’s in a much broader evolutionary picture.”

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