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Plague Likely a Stone Age Arrival in Central Europe

München, 11/23/2017

The plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis may have first come to Europe with the large-scale migration of steppe nomads in the Stone Age, millennia before the first known historical epidemics.

A male individual from the Haunstetten Postillionstraße site, with a dagger, flint arrow heads, bracelet and bone pin. (Stadtarchäologie Augsburg)

A team of researchers led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, which included Professor Philipp Stockhammer, Institute of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology at LMU, has sequenced the first six European genomes of the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis dating from the Late Neolithic to the Bronze Age (4,800 to 3,700 years ago). “In doing so, we have obtained the earliest evidence for the presence of plague in what is now Germany”, says Stockhammer. Analysis of these samples, published in Current Biology, suggests that the Stone Age plague entered Europe during the Neolithic with a large-scale migration of people from the Eurasian steppe.
(Current Biology 2017)

Press release of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History:

For more information on Philipp Stockhammer’s research, see: