Bubonic Plague Pandemic: Scientists Finally Traced Origins of the 14th Century Black Death

The Black Death, or the bubonic plague pandemic, was a worldwide outbreak during the Medieval Age that lasted for 500 years from the 14th century to the 18th century.

The plague initially spread from Europe and other continents of the world.

History and conventional literature tell us that the immediate origin of the Black Death started when it entered the Mediterranean via trade ships that landed on the European continent in 1347.

The vessels were transporting goods from the Black Sea.

Prevailing literature also showed that some of these ships docked at the Sicilian port of Messina, stating that locals were horrified to find a number of sailors were dead with survivors having black boils throughout their body.

Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the Medieval pandemic was responsible for killing a large number of the human population at that time.

The symptoms included the notorious swollen lymph nodes called a bubo, as well as fever, headache, chills, and fatigue.

Black Death Origins

Black Death

(Photo : Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Clothes infected by the Black Death being burnt in medieval Europe, circa 1340. The Black Death was thought to have been an outbreak of the bubonic plague, which killed up to half the population of Europe. An illustration from the ‘Romance of Alexander’ in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

In a study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, June 15, scientists unraveled the origins of the source strain of the Black Death, indicating it has its origins from an ancient plague strain in Central Asia, specifically in what is now Kyrgyzstan.

The study led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology used a multi-disciplinary approach and collaborations of researchers from the fields of history, archaeology, and genetics.

The international research team arrived at their conclusion after analyzing ancient DNA of human remains from two sites with the word “pestilence” inscribed on them.

The team discovered the bacteria or strain of the bubonic plague originally infected rodents only.

However, succeeding mutations of the strain led to the emergence of Yersinia pestis, which was capable of infecting humans and causing the lethal symptoms, as summarized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Also Read: Plague Strain as Deadly as Black Death Could Emerge Again [VIDEO]

Worst Pandemic in History

The Black Death or the second bubonic plague was a multi-century pandemic which started from 1347 to 1351, sweeping through Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, which left around 25 million dead.

It had aftershocks felt until early 1700s, according to the Ohio State University (OSU).

Conflict data showed that pandemic occurred between 1346 and 1353.

Prior to the new study, there were initial accounts and perspective of the bubonic plague, which resonated from an era even before the Medieval Age.

The Medieval pandemic had its origin on its first outbreak in Central Asia and China during the 13th century.

However, when tracing the ancient origins of the plague, the OSU stated the Black Death was a descendant of the same ancient plague which ravaged Rome from 541 to 549 CE.

Bubonic Plague Transmission

The OSU cited the approach of historians toward the bubonic plague transmission, indicating it was initially believed to be carried by bacterium-infected fleas from wild rodents, and then passed to the common household black rat.

However, a newer theory of its spread involve zoonotic transmission involving a direct contact between human and rodents.

From this, human fleas and head lice carried the deadly bacteria along trade routes throughout Eurasia and even sub-Saharan Africa, the university explained.

Related Article: Is Black Death Back? Officials Confirm the two Newest Cases of Bubonic Plague in China

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