The First Plague Victim In The World Was A 5000 Year Old European Hunter-Gatherer

It is thought that the man who died from the plague was bitten by a rodent that carried the bacteria, and was only in his mid-20s at the time of death.

We are still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic of 2020/2021, but it is really only a drop in the bucket when you compare it to the bubonic plague. That bacterial infection has been responsible for much death and suffering over the years, and it seems as if they have found its oldest victim.

During the Middle Ages, about half of the population in Europe died as a result of the plague, which was referred to as the “Black Death.” It affects humans as well as other mammals and tends to spread by fleas on rodents.

PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The oldest known cause of the plague, the bacteria known as Yersinia pestis, was detected by a research team made up of scientists from Germany and Latvia. The hunter-gatherer, who is thought to have lived about 5000 years ago was discovered in what is now present-day Latvia.

At one time, it was thought that the bacteria was relatively new on the scene, as far as bacteria years are concerned. This discovery, however, shows that it may have been around for thousands of years earlier than was previously considered.

PHOTO: CELL REPORTS

It is thought that the man who died from the plague was bitten by a rodent that carried the bacteria. He was probably in his mid-20s when he died. The skull was originally discovered in the 1800s, but it wasn’t until 2011 that it was rediscovered in the collection of German anthropologist, Rudolph Virchow.

After studying the remains, scientists were able to determine that he was part of a group of hunter-gatherers that belonged to other remains that were found in the area. Testing took place on the bones and teeth to identify pathogens, both bacterial and viral.

PHOTO: CELL REPORTS

Scientists were able to find some DNA, although it was fragmented. It took some time for them to reassemble the bacterium genome before it was sent off for analysis to compare it with modern strains of the bacteria responsible for the plague.

The lead author of the study, Ben Krause-Kyora said: “What’s most astonishing is that we can push back the appearance of Y. pestis 2,000 years farther than previously published studies suggested.” He went on to say that it seems as if this is close to the origin of the bacteria.

PHOTO: CELL REPORTS

It is thought that the strain of bacteria found in the hunter-gatherer was part of a strain that may have appeared on the scene about 7000 years ago. This bacteria was different, as it was not transmitted through fleas, but was likely transmitted through being bit by a rodent.

Since the transmission was different, the strain was likely much less contagious. That is why the other people in that group whose remains were found did not appear to have the bacteria so there was not likely an infestation in the community.