A recent study revealed an old case of this rare disease that may be rewriting history.
On paper, the plague may be dating its origin 2,000,000 years ago, but the appearance of the Yersinia pestis bacteria, which causes the bubonic plague, suggests that the disease emerged in humans more than 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.
“Up to now this is the oldest-identified plague victim we have,” stated Dr. Ben Krause-Kyora, the head of the aDNA Laboratory at the University of Kiel in Germany.
The bacteria found in the teeth of a woman in her late 30s confirms that the disease undoubtedly has its origin in Europe, but what recent studies have discovered is that at least two thousand years before, humans are already living with the disease in a more recessively way until it peaked in the 14th century.
“It’s a lot to conclude from just a few ancient teeth,” said Nicolás Rascovan, a genetics researcher at Aix Marseille Université.
New Study Sheds Light Into The Origins Of The Bubonic Plague
The study was carried out because of how the woman was buried, it was unusual when comparing it to the rest of the corpses in the grave and it did not follow any sequence, for which they determined that it was a body from a different time.
These are still early days for the study of ancient pathogens. Data points are so few and far between that, it’s like making sense of a photograph from just a handful of pixels.
“It seems that we are really close to the origin of the bacteria. What’s most astonishing is that we can push back the appearance of pestis 2,000 years before its greatest spread. “Dr. Ben Krause-Kyora said to BBC.
In other words, the Black Death began as a mild, isolated disease. But over the centuries, it gained strength and evolved to become more infectious. By the 14th-century, it developed the ability to jump from fleas to humans – with devastating results.