The teeth of seven bodies contained traces of the plague dating to the Bronze Age have been discovered by researchers.
The ancient DNA showed it was unable to become a bubonic form or spread through fleas in that time period, meaning those traits evolved over time.
The scientists from the University of Copenhagen believe the plague was influential in forming early human populations. Previous studies have shown that rather than growing gradually, populations in Europe declined by as much as 60 percent, with the plague potentially at the forefront.
There’ve been three plague pandemics in human history:
- The Plague of Justinian began in AD541 and killed more than 25 million people
- The Black Death started in China in 1334 and claimed the lives of up to half of Europeans
- The Modern Plague, in China, emerged in the 1860s and led to 10 million deaths
The ancient skeletons from which the teeth were taken from contained evidence of Yersinia pestis infection – the killer bacterium that causes plague. The oldest was 5,783 years old, much earlier than any recorded instances of the disease.
“It’s super-fascinating,” lead researcher Prof. Eske Willerslev said. “We show that plague was widespread 2,000 years earlier than normally thought. With time, these studies will help us to understand how diseases are formed, how they originate and develop.”
The plague is problematic in countries even today. In 2013, there were 783 cases reported worldwide, including 126 deaths.