The black plague that devastated Europe, Asia and North Africa in the fourteenth century was born on the border between Kyrgyzstan and China, at the foot of the Tian Shan mountain range. This was discovered by research coordinated by the British University of Stirling, the German University of Tübingen and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, published in the journal Nature. The black plague, the researchers write, “is one of the greatest disasters linked to infectious diseases in human history. It is estimated to have caused the deaths of up to 60% of the Western Eurasian population over the course of its eight years ”, from 1346 to 1353.
The study may have solved the riddle of its origin: the researchers studied human remains found at two archaeological sites near Lake Issyk Kul. The inscriptions on the tombs dated the deaths to 1338 and attributed them to a plague. The team first confirmed, through genetic analysis of the skeletal teeth, that the cause of death was a Yersinia pestis infection.
The complete analysis of the bacterium’s DNA also made it possible to conclude that the genome isolated in Kyrgyzstan lay at the basis of a series of genetic ramifications that developed in parallel with the spread of the bacterium in the rest of the world.
“We have found that the ancient strains of Kyrgyzstan are positioned exactly in the knot of this huge diversification event. In other words, we have found the origin strain of the Death Star and we even know its exact date: the year 1338, ”says first study signer Maria Spyrou, from the University of Tübingen. Finally, the similarity of the bacterial genome found in the excavations with that which is still found today in the rodents of the area has confirmed that in all probability the great epidemic of the fourteenth century originated from a passage of the bacterium from the reservoir animal to man which occurred precisely in that area. The University of Pisa also collaborated in the study.