Scientific research published in the Nature magazinegave an account of the origins of one of the deadliest diseases and pandemics in history: the Black Death.
The Black Death, an outbreak of bubonic plague caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis (Y. pestis), It is considered the deadliest pandemic in human history. “The Black Death claimed about 50-60% of the total population of Western Eurasia over the course of approximately seven years (1346-53),” explains the Dr Philip Slavinassociate professor of history at the University of Stirling, Scotland.
So far the hypotheses of origins included: China, Central Asia, Pontic-Caspian steppe (between the Black and Caspian Seas), Mongolia, Urals, Western Siberia and India. The two main hypotheses were China and Central Asia”, explains Slavin.
However, archaeological items, including tombstones, from Central Asia, in a region near Lake Issyk Kul (present-day Kyrgyzstan) suggest that a disease widely affected the local community. “There are, in total, 467 gravestones with precisely dated inscriptions, ranging from 1248 to 1345. One hundred and eighteen of them are dated between two years (1338-1339), indicating some kind of high mortality crisis,” says Slavin. .
That is why the next step was the realization of samples of ancient DNA (DNA) in Western Eurasia, which was a step for the Silk Road.
aDNA was discovered from the teeth of individuals buried in the inscribed graves and analyzed. Teeth are better preserved after death compared to other components of the body, explains Slavin, and they also preserve pathogens found in the bloodstream: “During analysis, the plague bacteria, Y. pestis was detected in all three individuals.”
“It was not only detected Y. pestis in all three samples, but the high coverage of two (out of three) samples allowed us to determine their evolutionary position in the phylogenetic tree,’ adds Dr Slavin.
Thus, the conclusion is that the launch point of the Black Death was somewhere in the wider Tian Shan area. The Tian Shan is a large mountain system found in Central Asia, straddling the border between China and Kyrgyzstan.