According to a recent study published in the journal Nature, the Black Death, the worst epidemic in human history, may have started in Central Eurasia. The origins of the deadly pandemic in the 14th century CE have long been debated, with predictions ranging from western Eurasia to China based on earlier studies. This newest estimate is based on a variety of sources, including a stunning DNA study of people who died in the 14th century CE in the area that is now Kyrgyzstan.
The research focuses on the deep Chüy Valley in northern Kyrgyzstan, near Lake Issyk Kul, where a remarkable number of graves may be dated to 1338 and 1339 CE. Written records from the time period are scarce, however this date of 1338 is eight years before the Black Death is believed to have landed on European coasts in 1346 CE.
Many of the local tombstones are written in Cyrillic, indicating that the cemeteries contain the corpses of people who died of “pestilence.” Scholars, on the other hand, have questioned whether they had much relation to the Black Death because the date was several years before the recognized appearance of the plague breakout in Europe. The tombs do, in fact, include the corpses of some of the first known plague victims, according to genetic data. The researchers recovered ancient DNA from seven people buried at the locations and found signs of the plague-causing bacterium, Yersinia pestis, in three of them.
They discovered the strain around the time of the Black Death’s initial “great bang” after rebuilding the damaged and fragmented ancient bacterium DNA. “We discovered that Kyrgyzstan’s old strains are located right at the center of this tremendous diversification event.” In other words, we discovered the parent strain of the Black Death and know the exact year [1338 CE],” Maria Spyrou, lead author and researcher at the University of Tübingen in Germany, stated.
The researchers also observed that modern plague strains closely linked to the historic ones that caused the Black Death are still infecting rats in this area. Because plague epidemics are known to start with an animal – usually a mouse or its fleas – this implies that the Black Death may have originated in Central Eurasia. “We discovered both old and current evidence.” At the same time, we have tombstones that tell us when it happened,” research author Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History said at a news conference on Tuesday. “We’ve pinpointed its time and space origin, which is very extraordinary.”