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Genomic analysis of 14th century remains originally buried in modern-day Kyrgyzstan suggests an outbreak in the region likely served as the precursor to the Black Death, researchers revealed yesterday. The discovery sheds light on the longstanding mystery surrounding the potential origin of the medieval plague, which killed tens of millions of people across Eurasia and North Africa roughly 700 years ago.
In the study, DNA from a strain of the plague-causing bacteria Yersinia pestis was found in gravesites where the tombstones indicated the occupant had died from pestilence. Analysis revealed the strain to be a direct ancestor of a number of major lineages that later propagated across multiple continents, including a variant recovered from graves dug in London at the height of the outbreak in 1348.
For centuries, the region occupied a central position along the ancient Silk Road trading routes, which researchers say would have facilitated the widespread transmission of the disease.