Contours of the Black Death Cemetery at Charterhouse Square, London

Excavations for the Crossrail Extension project discovered the second major Black Death cemetery in London in 2013. This week the first peer-reviewed publication of findings from the site appeared (in press).  As a rescue excavation in the midst of a construction project, the site had to be quickly surveyed for the extent of the cemetery and this... Continue Reading →

Expanding the Historical Plague Paradigm

When the first complete genomic sequence of Yersinia pestis was published on October 4, 2001 the world was naturally focused elsewhere, on anthrax bioterrorism -- the Amerithrax incident was then in its second week-- and the September 11 attacks were just over three weeks old. As the world redeveloped bioterrorism assessments and plans, plague was... Continue Reading →

Historians Chronicling Plague Genetic Discoveries

After my last post critiquing Cohn's scientific interpretations, I think its only fair to write about all the historians who are actively engaging and incorporating scientific findings in their work. I've communicated with a lot of historians who are following the scientific work on the plague and I know there will be some articles and... Continue Reading →

Molecular Confirmation of Yersinia pestis in 6th century Bavaria

Erasing any lingering doubts about the agent of the Plague of Justinian, a group of German biological anthropologists have shown conclusively that Yersinia pestis caused an epidemic in a 6th century Bavarian cemetery at Aschheim. Harbeck et al (2013) provide a convincing refutation of previous theories about the etiologic agent of the Plague of Justinian.... Continue Reading →

Remodeling the Plague Phylogenetic Tree

Understanding the molecular history of any organism requires fitting together ancient DNA with the phylogenetic tree constructed with living exemplars. Constructing a bacterial phylogenetic tree is a snapshot of a moving target because its impossible to sample all of the strains.  A recent study by the East Smithfield group ( Bos et al, 2012 [2])... Continue Reading →

Siberian Mummy Yields 300-year-old Smallpox DNA

It was the mass grave that got their attention. Four bodies crammed into one casket, with one child outside but with the casket. Multiple graves are not common in Yakutia, Siberia. Examination of the late 17th to early 18th century mummies indicates that burial came quickly after death. The casket contains one adult male over... Continue Reading →

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