The Sexacentennial Mystery
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It took more than 600 years but scientists finally discovered the origins of the Black Death, CBS News reported.
In a new study, researchers pinpointed the source of the pandemic in a region in Central Asia after analyzing DNA from remains at an ancient burial site.
The Black Death eradicated 30 percent to 60 percent of the population of Europe from 1346 to 1353. Scholars have been debating the source for years until a research team discovered a clue in an 1890 work describing an ancient burial site in what is now northern Kyrgyzstan.
The team came across a surge in burials between 1338 and 1339 with a number of tombstones describing the cause of death as “pestilence.”
“When you have one or two years with excess mortality it means that something funny was going on there,” co-author Philip Slavin said in a statement.
Slavin and his colleagues went to the burial site to extract genetic material from the teeth of seven people buried there. Researchers explained that teeth contain blood vessels, which could provide them with evidence that blood-borne pathogens were responsible for the inhabitants’ demise.
The findings showed that the pathogen was Yersinia pestis, commonly known as the plague – and the specific pathogen responsible for the 14th-century pandemic.
The authors acknowledged that the data sample is very small but other scientists said the research methods could be used to resolve other ancient scientific mysteries.