Scientists Finally Identify the Origin of the Black Death

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The source of the Black Death — the inspiration behind numerous black metal songs — is said to have been finally pinpointed by European researchers, according to a report this week in the U.K.’s Metro. The Black Death was the 14th century bubonic plague that’s still the deadliest pandemic recorded in human history.

But the place where it first emerged has been disputed by scientists for over six centuries.

Now, perhaps ground zero for the Black Death has finally been located. While the search may seem archaic, the subject holds vast importance for humanity. Especially since the world is currently enduring another deadly pandemic, COVID-19, which has killed over a million Americans since March 2020, according to a New York Times database.

The Black Death is estimated to have killed 75 to 200 million across Africa, Asia and Europe from 1346 to 1353. While most scientists have long believed the virus responsible for it originated somewhere in Asia, it has never been conclusively pinned down.

But the new research team from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics and Scotland’s University of Stirling said they have found the origin point. They concluded that deaths in an earlier 14th century outbreak in modern Kyrgyzstan were due to strains of the same bacterium, Yersinia pestis, that ultimately created the pathogens found in the Black Death.

“It is like finding the place where all the strains come together, like with coronavirus where we have Alpha, Delta, Omicron all coming from this strain in Wuhan, [China],” German palaeogeneticist Johannes Krause, one of the researchers on the study, explained to Nature.

The researchers found their answer by analyzing DNA (ancient DNA or “aDNA”) from the teeth of skeletons from cemeteries in the Tian Shan region of Kyrgyzstan. They did so after identifying a spike in burials in the area in 1338 and 1339. From there, they located the bacterium.

“Our study puts to rest one of the biggest and most fascinating questions in history and determines when and where the single most notorious and infamous killer of humans began,” a fellow researcher added.

The Black Death is also known as the Great Mortality, the Pestilence or just the Plague. It is estimated to have killed 30 to 60 percent of the European population and around a third of the population of the Middle East. It was part of a crisis of the Middle Ages that followed the Great Famine of 1315–1317.

Above photo: Protective clothing for 17th century plague doctors.

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