By reconstructing its genome, scientists found that the Black Death was hiding in Europe in between plagues that devastated the population. It’s known as the most catastrophic epidemic in the history of mankind. Modern strains are much less effective, but it wrecked havoc on the European population.
To this day, there are still several mysteries regarding the Black Plague. Questions have remained unanswered in spite of its worldwide-known and tragic consequences. In the 14th century, it’s estimated that the disease wiped off between 30 to 50% of Europe’s entire population in just 5 years. It spread quickly and there are still doubts in regards its origin.
Experts believe flea-infested rats encouraged the spreading of the disease, with the pests carrying the disease. With lack of hygiene and numerous trading ships that arrived with both cargo and rats among it, it allowed for the Black Death to run rampant. However, throughout centuries, it began to die out with no firm explanation as to how. Its appearance and disappearance were both a mystery.
Researchers from the Max Plank Institute (MPI) in Germany claim to have reconstructed the genome of the infamous Black Death. This has been achievable by studying DNA remnants from teeth samples of victims who had perished in Marseille in the 18th century. The Great Plague of Marseille took place between 1720 and 1722, commonly believed to be the last true outbreak of the plague in Europe.
According to Alexander Herbig from the MPI, they were surprised to find that the strain of Black Death from the 18th century is extinct today. Furthermore, it’s a direct descendant of the strain that destroyed the European population in the 14th century. That suggests that the disease was actually hiding somewhere through the continent. And that’s a “chilling thought”, according to Johannes Krause from MPI’s Department of Archaeogenetics.
It never truly disappeared
It may have been living just around the corner, waiting for the opportunity for an outbreak from a host that is still unknown. While it’s unlikely that the deadly strain is still present somewhere today, it does pose as a worrying fact. It could have arrived from anywhere in the world. Marseille was a hub of trade within the Mediterranean, so the plague could have been brought over from basically anywhere.
The study is crucial to better understanding the devastating disease. It’s a step forward in determining its geographical origins, causes, and how it was able to kill so many people in such little time. It’s undoubtedly the most famous epidemic in history, and there are still many questions surrounding its nature.
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