AFTER more than six-and-a-half-centuries of mystery, a team of researchers have discovered the origins of the Black Death.

Specialist scientists from the University of Stirling, Max Planck Institute and the University of Tubingen have found proof that the late medieval bubonic plague originally began in North Kyrgyzstan in the late 1330s.

The Black Death was a pandemic that lasted nearly 500 years and is considered one of the largest infectious disease catastrophes in human history but its origin remained elusive until now.

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University of Stirling historian Dr Philip Slavin said: “Our study puts to rest one of the biggest and most fascinating questions in history and determines when and where the single most notorious and infamous killer of humans began.

“We studied specimens from two cemeteries near Lake Issyk Kul in what is now North Kyrgyzstan after identifying a huge spike in the number of burials there in 1338 and 1339.

“We then discovered that this site had in fact been excavated in the late 1880s with around thirty skeletons taken from the graves.

“We were able to trace these skeletons and analyse aDNA taken from the teeth.”

It was eventually discovered that the teeth contained plague bacterium.

The research has seen Dr Slavin and colleagues studying the historic diaries from the original excavations in order to match the individual skeletons to their headstones, and carefully translating the inscriptions which were written in Syriac language.

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The University of Tubingen’s Dr Maria Spyrou said: “Despite the risk of environmental contamination and no guarantee that the bacteria would have been able to be preserved, we were able to sequence aDNA taken from seven individuals unearthed from two of these cemeteries – Kara-Djigach and Burana in the Chu Valley.

“Most excitingly, we found aDNA of the plague bacterium in three individuals.”

The research study “The source of the Black Death in 14th-century central Eurasia” is published in the journal Nature.