Plague Journal Club: Stone Age Plague

The earliest documented plague pandemic in Europe, the Plague of Justinian, occurred in the 6th century. However, a recent study by Rasmussen et al. (2015) found plague in Eurasian individuals from the Bronze Age, suggesting that plague was in Europe before the first recorded pandemics. In this journal club, we will discuss a paper by Valtuena, et al. (2016) that presents additional prehistoric Y. pestis genomes.

"The Stone Age Plague: 1000 years of Persistence in Eurasia." (2016) 

Aida Andrades Valtuena, et al.



Molecular signatures of Yersinia pestis were recently identified in prehistoric Eurasian individuals, thus suggesting Y. pestis might have caused some form of plague in humans prior to the first historically documented pandemic. Here, we present four new Y. pestis genomes from the European Late Neolithic and Bronze Age (LNBA) dating from 4,500 to 3,700 BP. We show that all currently investigated LNBA strains form a single genetic clade in the Y. pestis phylogeny that appears to be extinct today. Interpreting our data within the context of recent ancient human genomic evidence, which suggests an increase in human mobility during the LNBA, we propose a possible scenario for the spread of Y. pestis during the LNBA: Y. pestis may have entered Europe from Central Eurasia during an expansion of steppe pastoralists, possibly persisted within Europe until the mid Bronze Age, and moved back towards Central Eurasia in subsequent human population movements.

Published Jan. 10, 2017 2:41 PM - Last modified Jan. 10, 2017 2:41 PM