Plague May Have Entered Europe in Prehistoric Times

According to recent scientific research conducted by Germany’s Max Planck  Institute, the plague was in Europe as far back as the Stone Age. When scanning the remains of 500 prehistoric skeletons, scientists found plague bacteria in six individuals. The samples come from Russia, Germany and the Baltic countries.

The deadly bacterium came to Europe during the mass migration of people who moved from Central Asia eastwards about 5,000 years ago. The findings suggest that the disease came to Europe in waves during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Some experts think that people may have been moving eastwards to escape the bacterium.

Most of the people at that time were nomadic farmers who travelled with their livestock. Animals may have harboured the plague bacterium and helped spread it.

By analyzing the bacterium scientists hope to find out how it evolved and became more deadly over periods of time.

The plague was responsible for many mass killings in history.  The deadliest was the Black Death which occurred in Europe during the 14th century and killed about a third of the continent’s population.   It still causes deaths in certain areas of the world. Recent outbreaks in Madagascar have killed hundreds of people.

Stone Age people may have spread the plague from Central Asia to Europe - Image: Gugatc
Stone Age people may have spread the plague from Central Asia to Europe – Image: Gugatchitchinadze

Words

  • according to = as said by …
  • bacterium, bacteria  = some living things, some of which cause illnesses or diseases
  • Baltic countries = Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
  • Bronze Age = time between  6,000 and 4,000 years ago when bronze was used for making tools
  • century = a hundred years
  • conduct = do, carry out
  • disease = illness
  • escape = get away from
  • evolve = grow; develop; change
  • harbour = here: to have something in them that is dangerous
  • livestock = animals such as cows, sheep, goats that are kept on a farm
  • mass migration = when many people leave their homes, often  in order to escape from a dangerous situation
  • Neolithic = the last period of the Stone Age, about 10,000 years ago, when people started to live in small groups
  • nomadic = people who travel from place to place  instead of living in one place all the time
  • outbreak = when something suddenly starts to happen
  • plague = deadly disease that produces high fever and swollen places in the body; it often leads to deaths of a large number of people
  • prehistoric = time in history before anything was written down
  • recent = a short time ago
  • remains = what is left of a body
  • research = to study a subject seriously so that you can find out more about it
  • responsible = the reason for something
  • scan = look at something carefully
  • scientist = a person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • spread = take from place to place
  • suggest = imply; to say that something is probably true
  • Stone Age = early time in human history when stone was used for making tools
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