5,000 years ago, a man who lived in Europe carried in his skull the bacteria that wiped out a third of the world’s population during the Middle Ages.
It is estimated that the Black Death claimed the lives of 200 million people in Europe. In the Middle Ages, this accounted for a third of the population of the entire world. Historically, it has been accepted that the cause was close contact with infected rodent species – much like the coronavirus and other zoonotic diseases – and the lack of adequate hygienic measures at the time. A team of German scientists seems to have found one more clue to the origin of this devastation.
The Black Plague First Patient
Finding first patient of the Black Plague is an ambitious task. However, according to the study by the University of Kiel in Germany, it lived millennia before the Middle Ages were in full swing. It may have been a prehistoric man, who lived in Latvia 5,000 years ago. The oldest known strain of this bacterium was found in his skull.
The findings were published in Cell Reports and they start from the genetic analysis found on the remains of this hunter-gatherer. It was on the skull that the oldest strain of Yersinia pestis, historically known as bubonic plague. However, the other people who were buried with him had no presence of the disease in their bones.
This suggests that, in that remote past, the disease was not so deadly. In the same way, it opens the possibility that it has been strengthened over the years until causing sanitary devastation in the Middle Ages. Despite this, it was powerful enough to claim its first victim, just 20 or 30 years old.
Zoonotic Diseases Are Not New
This new evidence sheds new light on the fact that zoonotic diseases are not new to Earth. On the contrary, they have accompanied humanity from its very origins. In the case of the Black Plague, it appears that it was transmitted from animal to animal, and not from person to person.
It went from a flea to a rat, and eventually, through close contact with medieval humans, it reached our species. The genetic mutations suffered by the strain allowed it to become even more resistant to our immune system. In this way, it wiped out the lives of 200 million people.
The discovery of this Neolithic corpse with the presence of the bacteria is the first indication that opens up new possibilities regarding the evolution of these diseases on the planet. Although it was previously more chronic and harmless, it caused one of the worst health catastrophes during the Middle Ages.