Black Plague origins revealed as scientists make big breakthrough

Kyrgyzstan - A team of researchers believes they have discovered the origin of the Black Death at two grave sites in Kyrgyzstan's Tian Shan Mountains.

The origin of the Black Plague has been discovered at a grave site in the Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan.
The origin of the Black Plague has been discovered at a grave site in the Tian Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan.  © VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO v AFP

The Black Death, also known as the Bubonic Plague, was an infamous pandemic that took place during the Middle Ages and killed nearly half of Europe's population in the span of seven years.

Its origin has been debated for centuries, but scientists from the University of Stirling in Scotland, as well as from Germany's Max Planck Institute and the University of Tübingen, have found evidence that suggests the plague began in Kyrgyzstan in the late 1330s.

"We studied specimens from two cemeteries near Lake Issyk Kul in what is now North Kyrgyzstan after identifying a huge spike in the number of burials there in 1338 and 1339," said University of Stirling historian Dr. Philip Slavin

"We were able to trace these skeletons and analyze aDNA [ancient DNA] taken from the teeth. To my astonishment, this confirmed the beginning of the second plague pandemic," he added.

The Black Death's origin story

Inscriptions on some tombstones at the site mention a mysterious pestilence that caused a sudden spike in deaths, linking it to the plague, which is believed to have spread to the Mediterranean before appearing in mainland Europe around 1347.

Researchers have also found a similar modern plague strain present in rodents in the area, particularly marmots.

"We found not just the ancestor of the Black Death, but we actually found the ancestor of the majority of plague strains that are circulating in the world today," said Johannes Krause at the Max Planck Institute.

"Just like Covid, the Black Death was an emerging disease, and the start of a huge pandemic that went on for some 500 years. It's very important to understand actually in what circumstances did it emerge," he added.

Cover photo: VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO v AFP

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