The genome sequenced from the teeth of black victims reveals the origin of the disease

Between 1338 and 1339, a woman named Bačaq, 40 years old and only 1.42 meters tall, died and was buried in the Kara-Djigach cemetery, 11 km from Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. She is one of 114 people buried at the site within two years – and probably died as a result of the Black Death, which could be one of the forerunners of its transfer.

Her epitaph, which read “a faithful woman,” was written in Syriac, an Aramaic dialect. The Bačaq tombstone does not tell the cause of death, but other tombs from 1338 and 1339 contain this information, described as mawtānā – plague, plague or plague. The 114 dead account for a quarter of all burials in the cemetery, which functioned from 1245 to 1345.

Epitaph of one of those killed by the plague in the cemetery. It reads: “This is the tomb of the believer Sanmaq. [Ele] died of plague. “(Image: AS Leybin / Public Domain)

order of the plague

Bačaq’s teeth, along with a woman’s teeth buried nearby, provide genomic evidence for what scientists believe is an ancestral strain of the bacterium. Yersinia pestisresponsible for the 14th century black death pandemic, and more: the article on the case suggests that the region is the source of the plague, which killed what it estimates to be between 30% and 60% of the entire European population over the years old.

Many regions of Asia are among those proposed as the origin of the second pandemic plague – the first was Justinian’s plague in the 6th century, also responsible for the bubonic plague. So far, virtually all genetic and historical data came from Europe, providing a Eurocentric view of events. The new study examines the only archaeological evidence outside Western Eurasia and Europe.

The bodies of five women and two men from the cemeteries of Kara-Djigach and Burana, a nearby village, had been exhumed in the late 19th century by archaeologist Nikolay Pantusov, and the skulls of the dead are kept in the Peter the Great Museum of anthropology and ethnography (Art Camera, Russia’s first museum) in St. Petersburg.

Excavation at the Kara-Djigach site in the Chu Valley, Kyrgyzstan, at the foot of the Tian Shan Mountains, between 1885 and 1892 (Image: AS Leybin / Public Domain)
Excavation at the Kara-Djigach site in the Chu Valley, Kyrgyzstan, at the foot of the Tian Shan Mountains, between 1885 and 1892 (Image: AS Leybin / Public Domain)

The genomes of Y. pestis taken from the bones of two of the women examined were sequenced and found to be identical and then compared with 203 modern strains and 47 historical genomes of the species. The tribe found appears to be the ancestor of the one who evolved at the time of the Black Death, linked to the beginning of this second pandemic. The same strains are found in the remnants of European plague victims and even today in less virulent forms.

the origin of the plague

The strain taken from the bodies is similar to the modern ones found in animals in the region, prompting scientists to suggest that it originated from the nearby mountain region called Tian Shan, on the border between Kyrgyzstan and China, when the bacterium sprang from rodent hosts. (probably marmots) to humans.

Genome analysis of seven people from the cemetery showed that they resemble the populations of modern Eurasia, but the diversity of objects from different places in the tombs indicates great geographical diversity, originating from China, Mongolia and Armenia. This shows how trade routes connected the region, which at the time was controlled by Mongols.

Bubo caused by bubonic plague on a victim's leg (Image: CDC / Public Domain)
Bubo caused by bubonic plague on a victim’s leg (Image: CDC / Public Domain)

Balasagun, the village closest to the Burana Cemetery, was a center of economic, political and cultural life in Central Asia, located along the Silk Road. Intercontinental trade played a major role in the spread of the plague during the Black Death, as evidenced by the cemetery’s position, but the study’s conclusion raises the question of why the disease did not also spread to East Asia.

The study was published on Wednesday (15) in the scientific journal nature.

Source: Nature

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