The bacterium Yersinia pestis caused the Black Death and other horrible bubonic plagues throughout history. Despite the historical significance, the origins of the disease were never really discovered.
What Was Discovered In Russia?
Researchers believe that they have discovered the origin of the bacteria behind the Black Death. The findings suggest that it likely goes back all the way to the bronze age.
The findings were published in a study on June 8 in the journal Nature Communications.
The discovered Yersinia pestis genomes were found in the skeletons of a woman and a man who were buried together in the Samara region of ancient Russia near the Volga River. The skeletons date back 3,800 years.
Prior studies found that Yersinia pestis originated around 1,000 BC. This discovery would push the origin back by at least 800 years. It also suggests that there might have been at least two plague lineages that circulated around Eurasia during the Bronze Age.
"Additional Bronze Age and Iron Age plague genomes could help pinpoint key events that contributed to the high virulence and spread of one of humankind's most notorious pathogens," said senior author Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
How Did Researchers Discover The New Origin Of The Black Death?
The bodies were originally discovered a few years ago, but researchers at the time didn't make the connection to the Black Death. There were nine bodies discovered, but these two skeletons were buried together in a single grave, which had scientists wondering about that.
Researchers with the Max Planck Institute in Germany pulled the teeth from the skeletons and they realized there was a connection. They examined the pulp of the teeth with genetic tests before locating the bacteria. The DNA tests confirmed that both individuals had the same bacteria strain and genetic components of the Black Death.
Using previously surfaced data, the researchers found that the skeletons were roughly 3,800 years old. This changes the timeline of the bubonic plague.
Future Implications Of The Origin Of This Bacteria
Although the Black Death is not a problem in modern times, this study might shed light on fighting global diseases today. It shows that an understanding of human history might be needed to know the origin of a disease.
"Understanding how a disease emerges is something we don't really know," said researcher Maria Spyrou. "Of course, every disease has a different way, or might have a different way, there are patterns there that might help us understand it in more global terms, perhaps."