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Thursday, December 15, 2016

More on the stone age plague

Good stuff at bioRxiv:

Abstract: 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.


The first indication of plague in Europe is found in the Baltic region and coincides with the time of the arrival of the steppe component (Allentoft et al., 2015). The two Late Neolithic Y. pestis genomes from the Baltic in this study were reconstructed from individuals associated with the Corded Ware Complex (Gyvakarai1 and KunilaII). The Baltic Y. pestis genomes are genetically derived from the strain that was found in the ‘Andronovo Complex’ from the Altai region [my note: I think they mean Afanasievo], suggesting that the disease might have spread with steppe pastoralists from Central Eurasia to Eastern and Central Europe during their massive range expansion. The younger Late Neolithic Y. pestis genomes from Southern Germany are genetically derived from the Baltic strains and are found in individuals associated with the Bell Beaker Complex. Previous analysis have shown that Bell Beaker individuals from Germany also carry ‘steppe ancestry (Allentoft et al., 2015; Haak et al., 2015). This suggests that Y. pestis may have been spread further southwestwards analogous to the human steppe component. The youngest of the LNBA Y. pestis genomes (RISE505), found also in the Altai region, descends from the Central European strains, and thus suggest a spread back into the eastern steppes.

Valtuena et al., The Stone Age Plague: 1000 years of Persistence in Eurasia, bioRxiv, Posted December 15, 2016. doi:

See also...

Plague germs may have facilitated Bronze Age expansions from the steppe

Mobile and then some

So how many of you really read the preprints at bioRxiv?


Ryukendo K said...

Once again, no sign of the necessary transmission or virulence factors responsible for the modern plague. This strain could not survive in fleas, so it is not very transmissions at all. It may have manifested as a tuberculosis-like or hepatitis-like disease.

Olympus Mons said...

Like the Map.
Yamnaya in its archaeological place, that honest white space between them and CWC, the half breeds (BB/CWC) in dark purple and the original Bell beakers on on lighter purple. ... Well too bad they didn't get dna from the "real" BB. that would put to rest their origin in the midst of steppe, wouldn't it?

Fanty said...

"Well too bad they didn't get dna from the "real" BB. that would put to rest their origin in the midst of steppe, wouldn't it?"

No. I recall there was a test on more western than Germany bellbakers. They had lower steppe anchestry but still significant. I am to lazy to check out, but from my mind it was like German bellbakers 40-50% steppe anchestry and ... was it French or was in Spanish ones with 30-40% steppe anchestry.

Fanty said...

beakers of course, not bakers. lol

Fanty said...

From my mind, can be wrong:

Yamna: 1005 steppe
Corded: 80% steppe
Unetice: 60% steppe
Bellbeaker Germany: 40% steppe
Bellbeaker Spain: 30% steppe

or something like that anyways.

Olympus Mons said...

.... hum. fantasy.

Romulus said...


the Mongol army hurled plague-infected cadavers into the besieged Crimean city of Caffa, thereby transmitting the disease to the inhabitants; and that fleeing survivors of the siege spread plague from Caffa to the Mediterranean Basin. If this account is correct, Caffa should be recognized as the site of the most spectacular incident of biological warfare ever, with the Black Death as its disastrous consequence.

Samuel Andrews said...

Fanty, where did you hear about DNA results from French and Spanish Bell Beaker?

Grey said...

if marmots are the natural carrier then unless the steppe dudes liked pet marmots i don't see how it would spread much beyond their natural habitat without ships - that doesn't mean it didn't just that might be a clue to how it did, if it did

Davidski said...

Just spotted an error in this preprint. They confused Afanasievo with Andronovo. Check this out...

"The Baltic Y. pestis genomes are genetically derived from the strain that was found in the ‘Andronovo Complex’ from the Altai region."

Nope, RISE509 with the oldest plague strain is from an Afanasievo burial.