The Ancient Plague: Traces of 4,000 Years Old Found in Britain

The press service of the British Francis Crick Institute announced the discovery of traces of an ancient plague about 4,000 years old. Researchers found fragments of DNA from ancient strains of the plague bacillus in the remains of three people who were buried in burial sites in southwestern and northwestern England.

According to the report, the plague-causing microbes were similar to the oldest plague bacillus, whose traces have recently been found in Spain and Eastern Europe. This indicates that the ancient plague was highly contagious and could spread quickly over great distances. Scientists note that at that time it did not have the ymt gene, which is necessary for the plague to be carried by rodents.

Interestingly, scientists began to study the remains of victims of ancient plague epidemics recently. During their search, they found the oldest traces of plague in the remains of ancient inhabitants of the Samara region, the Urals, as well as the north of Latvia and Spain so far. All these people, who lived about 5.3-5 thousand years ago, died as a result of infection with ancient strains of the plague bacillus Yersinia pestis.

A group of European paleogeneticists led by Pontus Skoglund, head of the research group at the Francis Crick Institute in London, UK, has discovered the first evidence that close relatives of these microbes penetrated to the opposite side of Europe in a very short time, about one thousand years. The scientists made the discovery while studying the bones of ancient people found in a burial mound in northwest England and a burial ground in southeast Albion.

The oldest plague in Great Britain

Burial grounds in the south-west and north-west England contained the remains of 34 ancient British people who lived on its territory about 4,000 years ago, at the turn of the Stone and Bronze Ages. At that time, one of the mass migrations of peoples took place, during which new Indo-European tribes replaced almost all representatives of pre-existing cultures in Britain.

Researchers wondered if these migrants might have brought new diseases with them, including the plague. It turned out that fragments of DNA from ancient strains of plague were present in the remains of three individuals, two teenagers buried at a burial site in southwestern Britain and an adult woman found in a burial mound in Cumbria, in northwestern England. As in the case of the ancient plague from Eastern Europe and Spain, the genome of these Yersinia pestis variants lacked the ymt and yapC genes, which enhance plague contagiousness and are necessary for its transmission by rodents.

As Skoglund and his colleagues believe, the presence of such a form of plague in several distant regions of ancient Europe at once argues in favor of the fact that plague could have spread rapidly in the past by other pathways. In particular, its first carriers could have been people themselves, who were moving en masse across Europe at that time as a result of the invention of the wheel and the domestication of horses.

In conclusion, it is worth noting that scientists continue to study the remains of ancient people to uncover the mysteries of long-gone epidemics and to better understand how and why the plague spread. This work can help combat modern epidemics and protect people from dangerous diseases.

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