An ancient skull found by a river in modern-day Latvia may well hold clues as to how the bubonic plague wiped out tens of millions of people across Europe in what would eventually become the deadliest pandemic in human history.
Researchers from Kiel University in Germany revealed on Wednesday that a strain of the bacterium, known as Yersina pestis, dating back millenia, had been discovered in samples taken from the remains of a hunter gatherer in the Baltic nation. As part of a paper published in the Cell scientific journal, they say the man, estimated to have been in his 20s, lived around 5,000 years ago.
In a revelation that could have implications for the understanding of current and future pandemics, the academics say that this early variant was likely less infectious and deadly than the one that ravaged Eurasia thousands of years later. The Black Death, spread by rats and fleas, is estimated to have killed between 75 and 200 million people from 1347 to 1351.