DNA In Skeleton's Teeth May Solve London's Great Plague, The Truth Behind The Mass Death

First Posted: Sep 09, 2016 09:46 AM EDT

Scientists have recovered a strain of bacteria from a skeleton's teeth that may be the same bacteria responsible for the Black Death as reported by The National Geographic.

The Great Plague of London in 1665 may be caused by this bacterial strain found on a skeleton's teeth. Scientists said that the DNA of Yersinia pestis is the same strain responsible for Black Death in the 14th century. The skeleton was obtained last year when the new Crossrail underground rail link in London was under construction.

The old Bedlam Burial Ground was used between 1569 and early 18th century, housing more than 3,300 skeletons. Archaeologists even unearthed a mass grave containing 42 skeletons which they believe were victims of the plague.

DNA analysis of five of the individuals confirmed the presence of Yersinia pestis which indicates the victims indeed die of the bubonic plague. The discovery may provide new understanding on the Great Plague of 1665. The last round of the bubonic plague in Britain killed about 100,000 Londoners in just 18 months.

A team of scientists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) and the Max Planck Institute in Germany identified the DNA from the skeletons. The enamel on the teeth serves as a great time capsule preserving genetic information of any bacteria present on the victim's bloodstream during the time of death. The bacteria also died when the host died. And the last victim was reported to have died 351 years ago with no risk as of this generation.

Analysis of the five victim's skeleton confirmed that they are all younger than 25 years old with the youngest aging between six to 11 years old during the time of death. Of those whose sexes could be confirmed, there are two males and one female.

The discovery came in time as London marks the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. The plague disappeared after the fire and never returned except for the ghost traces of the bacteria's DNA.

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