Nearly 700 years after the Black Death wiped out over half of Medieval Europe's population, scientists say they've finally discovered where it came from
· · Jun 16, 2022 ·

Historians have long debated where the Black Death—a.k.a. the Bubonic Plague—first arose. That pandemic, which lasted from 1346-1353, claimed as many as 200 million lives, wiping out as much as 25% of the global population in just a few short years.

We've always known to where the disease spread. Now we may very well know where it first arose:

A deadly pandemic with mysterious origins: It might sound like a modern headline, but scientists have spent centuries debating the source of the Black Death that devastated the medieval world.

Not anymore, according to researchers who say they have pinpointed the source of the plague to a region of Kyrgyzstan, after analyzing DNA from remains at an ancient burial site.

"We managed to actually put to rest all those centuries-old controversies about the origins of the Black Death," said Philip Slavin, a historian and part of the team whose work was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

How did they discover where this terrible disease came from? A little research and a lot of luck:

Slavin, an associate professor at the University of Stirling in Scotland who has "always been fascinated with the Black Death," found an intriguing clue in an 1890 work describing an ancient burial site in what is now northern Kyrgyzstan.

It reported a spike in burials in 1338-39 and that several tombstones described people having "died of pestilence."

"When you have one or two years with excess mortality it means that something funny was going on there," Slavin told reporters.

"But it wasn't just any year — 1338 and 1339 was just seven or eight years before the Black Death," he said.

You gotta love that sort of code-cracking. Scientists managed to extract DNA from the teeth of multiple individuals buried at the site, with the DNA from those extractions hitting an exact match for Yersinia pestis, the plague:

The research team painstakingly reconstructed the Y. pestis genome from their samples and found the strain at the burial site pre-dated the diversification.

And rodents living in the region now were also found to be carrying the same ancient strain, helping the team conclude the "Big Bang" must have happened somewhere in the area in a short window before the Black Death.

That's good old-fashioned detective work right there!

P.S. Now check out our latest video: "Highlights from Biden's speech last night" 👇

Keep up with our latest videos — Subscribe to our YouTube channel!


There are 119 comments on this article.

Ready to join the conversation? Start your free trial today.

Access comments and our fully-featured social platform, completely free of charge.

Sign up Now
App screenshot

You must signup or login to view or post comments on this article.