Turns out that rats are not really to blame for the Black Death. These new facts have been revealed eight centuries after the plague killed millions all over Europe.
Dirty rats have been blamed for causing the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people starting in the 1300s, however, new information reveals that may not the culprits. A scientific study suggests that gerbils that arrived from Asia in the 14th century are to blame for repeat Black Death epidemics.
It has been a long-standing belief that the Black Death originated in the arid plains of Central Asia and then traveled along the Silk Road, reaching Crimea by 1343. In the past, the Oriental rat fleas living on the black rats that were regular occupants on merchant ships, were blamed.
If the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is correct, it will mean that blaming the rats all this time was a mistake.
“If we’re right, we’ll have to rewrite that part of history.” Professor Nils Christian Stenseth, from the University of Oslo, said.
These new Black Death facts will change everything we believe about how, one of the deadliest epidemics in the history of mankind came to be. The much maligned rats have been painted as the ones responsible for bringing the disease to Europe over and over again, during a span of about 400-years.
In the study, Professor Stenseth and his colleagues compared tree-ring records from Europe with 7,711 historical plague outbreaks, to see if the weather conditions would have been perfect for a rat-driven outbreak.
“For this, you would need warm summers, with not too much precipitation. Dry but not too dry.”
“And we have looked at the broad spectrum of climatic indices, and there is no relationship between the appearance of plague and the weather.”
With these facts, the researchers believe that certain weather conditions in Asia may have caused the giant gerbil to thrive and bring the Black Death to the continent. Wet springs followed by dry summer were ideal for the rodents to bloom and subsequently the fleas would jump from the animal to humans or domestic pets.
This time in history was when trade between the East and West was peaking and the plague was most likely brought to Europe along the silk road, Professor Stenseth explained.
“To me this was rather surprising, suddenly we could sort out a problem. Why did we have these waves of plagues in Europe?”
“We originally thought it was due to rats and climatic changes in Europe, but now we know it goes back to Central Asia.”
In their quest to gather even more facts about how the Black Death spread throughout Europe, the team of researchers will analyze plague bacteria DNA taken from ancient skeletons across Europe. If the genetic material shows a large amount of variation, it would suggest the team’s theory is correct, according to the BBC.
[Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]