from the we-should-probably-keep-studying-that dept.
Arthur T Knackerbracket has processed the following story:
In the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains in what is now Kyrgyzstan, tombstones in the Kara-Djigach cemetery with Syriac inscriptions showed that the village's death rate skyrocketed over a two-year period. [...]
Ten of the gravestones from those two years had longer inscriptions memorializing the persons and their cause of death—pestilence. This made [Phil] Slavin wonder whether the site might help settle a long debate about the origins of the Black Death pandemic that arrived in Europe around 1347 CE. [...]
The results of their analysis, published today (June 15) in Nature, implicate an ancient strain of the bacterium Yersinia pestis as the likely source of the Black Death pandemic, which Spyrou says killed half of Europe’s population in the decade after it arrived in the Black Sea region. The research also puts the village’s outbreak near the epicenter of a phylogenetic diversification, called a polytomy, where the bacterium’s lineage split into four new branches. “So it’s really like the big bang . . . of plague that we have there; the strain that gave rise to the majority of strains that are circulating in the world today,” Krause said in the briefing. Although it was already known that Y. pestis underwent an explosive radiation, the timing of it has been debated.
[...] All told, the study authors say their evidence supports the notion that the Black Death originated from Central Asia and counters other theories, such as the East Asia hypothesis, which postulates that Y. pestis swept into Europe from China. Their results also narrow the timeline of the big bang compared to other recent studies, which have suggested that the bacterium’s phylogenetic split could have occurred more than a century before the second plague pandemic.
[...] Krause notes that the plague bacterium has long resided in animals in the Tian Shan mountain region, and we still don’t understand much about pathogens in animal reservoirs, leaving us ill-equipped to predict the next spillover event. “I think we really have to increase our efforts to understand the diversity of pathogens in animal reservoirs—to monitor them.”
Spyrou, M.A., Musralina, L., Gnecchi Ruscone, G.A. et al. The source of the Black Death in fourteenth-century central Eurasia [open]. Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04800-3