BLACK DEATH SPREAD BY airborne and had TO BE by coughs and sneezes
It has long been thought the Black Death, the plague that decimated the population of Britain in the mid-14th century, was spread by fleas carried on rats.
However, 25 skeletons recently unearthed in Clerkenwell, London, believed to be of plague victims, have cast doubt on this age-old theory and provided evidence that they deadly disease may have, in fact, been airborne.
The DNA of the remains was compared to samples from an outbreak in Madagascar, in 2012, which killed 60 people.
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New theory: Analysis of skeletons discovered in London believed to be victims of the Black Death suggests the disease was not spread by rat fleas, but was in fact airborne
DNA of plague bacteria taken from the 25 skeletons discovered in Clerkenwell was compared to samples from a recent outbreak in Madagascar which killed 60 people
The remains were discovered during excavations of Charterhouse Square in Farringdon, London, an area of the capital left largely undisturbed for years
The scientists were shocked to discover that the two samples were an almost perfect match, meaning the 14th century plague was no more virulent than it is today.
They believe that for such a disease to have spread so quickly and cause so much damage it must have been spread by coughs and sneezes, getting into the lungs of its already weak and malnourished victims.
Dr Tim Brooks from Public Health England in Porton Down where the research was carried out, told the Guardian: 'As an explanation [rat fleas] for the Black Death in its own right, it simply isn't good enough. 'It cannot spread fast enough from one household to the next to cause the huge number of cases that we saw during the Black Death epidemics.'
It means that rather than being a bubonic plague it was in fact pneumonic meaning it was spread from human to human, rather than by flea bites.
The skeletons of 13 men, three women and two children, as well as seven other unidentifiable remains, were found under Charterhouse Square in Farringdon during excavation work for the £14.8 billion Crossrail project.
The DNA samples, which were extracted from the molar teeth of the skeletons, have also revealed intriguing details about the individual victims.
The researchers were shocked to discover that the two samples were an almost perfect match, meaning the 14th century plague was no more virulent than it is today
The DNA samples, which were extracted from the molar teeth of the skeletons, have also revealed intriguing details of the victims' lives
Don Walker, an osteologist with the Museum of London with one of the 25 skeletons found by construction workers under central London's Charterhouse Square last year
Researchers found that four in 10 Londoners killed during the epidemic grew up in other parts of Britain, making the medieval residents of London just as cosmopolitan as they are today.
Experts said the discovery of the skeletons was 'significant', saying that thousands more bodies could have been laid to rest in a mass grave in the area - which at the time was outside of the city boundaries.
Don Walker, an osteologist with the Museum of London, outlined the biography of one man whose ancient bones were found by construction workers under London's Charterhouse Square.
He was breast-fed as a baby, moved to London from another part of England, had bad tooth decay in childhood, grew up to work as a laborer, and died in early adulthood from the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century.
The poor man's life was nasty, brutish and short, but his afterlife is long and illuminating.
'It's fantastic we can look in such detail at an individual who died 600 years ago,' Walker said. 'It's incredible, really.'
Radiocarbon dating and analysis of pottery shards helped determine when the burials took place. Forensic geophysics - more commonly used in murder and war-crimes investigations - helped locate more graves under the square. Studying oxygen and strontium isotopes in the bones revealed details of diet and health.
Archaeologists were surprised to discover that the skeletons lay in layers and appeared to come from three different periods: the original Black Death epidemic in 1348-1350, and later outbreaks in 1361 and the early 15th century.
'It suggests that the burial ground was used again and again for the burial of plague victims,' said Jay Carver, Crossrail's lead archaeologist.
Bring out your dead: The Black Death decimated the population of Britain in the mid 14th century killing an estimated six of 10 londoners
The new finding have come from comparing DNA from teeth of the skeletons to samples from a recent plague outbreak in Madagascar
The excavation work was being carried out in order to make way for the new Crossrail train line
The Black Death is thought to have killed at least 75 million people, including half of Britain's population, yet the burials suggest a surprisingly high degree of social order - at first.
As the plague ravaged continental Europe, city fathers leased land for an emergency burial ground. The burials were simple but orderly, the bodies wrapped in shrouds and laid out in neat rows, sealed with a layer of clay.
The later skeletons, however, show more signs of upper-body injuries, consistent with a period of lawlessness and social breakdown.
Many of the bodies showed signs of poor health, the experts said. A high rate of back damage also suggested they had jobs involving heavy manual labour.
The remains also revealed that one of the bodies could have been that of a monk - after showing signs of vegetarianism in later life, which is something a Carthusian monk would have done during the 14th century.
One of the skeletons showed evidence of malnutrition and a large variation of diet 30 years prior to death, coinciding with the Great Famine of 1315 to 1317.
Six out of 10 sets of remains analysed were from people born and bred in London. But four had moved from further afield - presumably seeking work - from the southeast of England, central England or the east of England and one from northern England or Scotland.
Mr Carver said: 'This is probably the first time in modern archaeological investigation that we have finally found evidence for a burial ground in this area which potentially contains thousands of victims from the Black Death and potentially later plague events as well.
'Historical documents suggest the burial ground was established for poor strangers. There is no doubt from the osteological work that the individuals buried here were not the wealthy classes, and they are representing the typical Londoner.'
Six out of 10 bodies analysed were born and bred in London. But four had come from further afield - presumably seeking work - from the South East of England, central England or the East of England and one from northern England or Scotland
The remains also revealed that one of the bodies could have been that of a monk - after showing signs of vegetarianism in later life, which is something a Carthusian monk would have done during the 14th century
Archaeologist Jay Carver said: 'Analysis of the Crossrail find has revealed an extraordinary amount of information allowing us to solve a 660-year mystery'
He added: 'Analysis of the Crossrail find has revealed an extraordinary amount of information allowing us to solve a 660-year mystery. This discovery is a hugely important step forward in documenting and understanding Europe's most devastating pandemic.'
Forensic geophysics techniques have shown that there are potentially more burials across Charterhouse Square.
In July this year a 'community excavation project' will take place to try to determine the extent of the cemetery.
A similar skeleton formation was found in a Black Death burial site in nearby east Smithfield in the 1980s. Experts are now planning to compare the data gathered from the two burial sites.
The findings will be featured in a new Channel 4 programme, Return Of The Black Death, which will be aired at 8pm on April 6.
Crossrail's lead archeologist Jay Carver inspecting one of the 25 skeletons, left. Research has shown that the burial ground was established in 1348
Cyprian Plague victims unearthed in Egypt: Burnt corpses reveal a 3rd century burial plot built to 'prevent the apocalypse'
From 250 to 271 AD up to 5,000 people died each day in Rome not from war and famine, but from a deadly pandemic that would later be known as the Plague of Cyprian.
And now archaeologists have found the remains of what appears to be victims of the widespread disease, in a pit in Luxor, Egypt.
Kilns used to produce lime to cover the victims were also found, alongside a bonfire where stricken people were burned in order to stop the spread of the highly infectious disease, dubbed the 'end of worlds' pandemic.
Archaeologists in Egypt have found the remains of victims that were struck down by the Plague pf Cyprian in the latter half of the 3rd century. The victims were burned and covered in lime to prevent the deadly disease from spreading. Here can be seen two skulls, two bricks and a jug at the burial site
The find was made by the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor (MAIL) team, reported Live Science.
WHAT WAS SMALLPOX?
Smallpox was an ancient disease caused by the variola virus that resulted in a nasty rash where lesions were filled with fluid and pus.
The highly contagious disease was fatal in up to 30 per cent of cases.
It spread through contact between people and saliva droplets in an infected person's breath.
More than 300 million people died from smallpox in the 20th century alone.
But vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries ultimately led to its eradication in 1979.
It is one of only two infectious diseases to have been completely destroyed, the other being rinderpest in 2011.
The eradication of smallpox is regarded as one of humanity's greatest accomplishments.
The team, led by Francesco Tiradritti, excavated the tomb, known as the Funerary Complex of Harwa and Akhimenru, from 1997 until 2012.
The monument had been built for an Egyptian grand steward named Harwa in the 7th century BC and it was continually used until it became a plague-burial site in the 3rd Century AD - and was then never used again. Writing in the Egyptian Archaeology magazine, Tiradritti said using the tomb to dispose of infected corpses ‘gave the monument a lasting bad reputation and doomed it to centuries of oblivion until tomb robbers entered the complex in the early 19th century.’
The Plague of Cyprian raged until 271, by which time it claimed a quarter of Rome’s population - and countless lives elsewhere.
It spread across what is now modern-day Europe and into Africa.
Now believed to have been caused by smallpox, the plague was so devastating that it led the bishop of Carthage at the time, Saint Cyprian for whom the pandemic is named, to lament that it could signal the ‘passing away of the world’.
The find was made at a funerary complex, or tomb, in Luxor, Egypt. In the time of the Romans this city was known as Thebes and, from 250 to 271 AD it, like many other regions, was ravaged by smallpox in a pandemic that is now called the Plague of Cyprian
The kilns to produce lime to cover the bodies were fuelled by the remains of old wooden coffins, such as the one shown here. The find was made by the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor (MAIL) team after 15 years of excavations from 1997 to 2012
Oil lamps discovered near the lime kilns, shown here, were used by the stokers who kept the kilns burning to see in the dark. Stokers would have had to keep the kilns burning around the clock for several days in order to produce the lime necessary to cover the bodies
Of the plague, Cyprian explained the rather gruesome ways it would ravage its victims in his essay De mortalitate (On the plague).
'The intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting’ and ‘the eyes are on fire with the ejected blood,’ it read.
In some cases victims would also lose limbs to the disease, while many also eventually died.
The remarkable artefacts found by the archaeologists show the level of fear and panic the plague induced in the locals.
This best disinfectant known at the time was lime, which involved heating limestone to huge temperatures of up to 1,000°C (1,800°F).
The large temperatures, though, required huge amounts of fuel, and in order to produce enough lime to cover all the bodies it seems the locals at the time used coffins, and other artefacts, they found in this tomb to burn.
Bodies were covered with a layer of lime, used as a disinfectant, and kept inside a pillared hallway shown at 1. The three kilns are shown at A, B and C, in part fuelled by both coffin and mummy remains stored at 4. Water was added to the lime at niche 3, while the bonfire to burn the bodies is at 2
Here can be seen a close-up view of lime kiln C, which has a double chamber. It was built along with the other two kilns in order to produce enough lime disinfectant to cover the multitude of human remains that had died in the plague that struck the ancient city of Thebes, now Luxor
Seen here is the location where bodies were stored on the northern aisle of the monument's first pillared hall and covered with lime. The Plague of Cyprian raged until 2071, by which time it claimed a quarter of Rome's population
At the time of the outbreak, it was said people were quick to turn over their friends and even family to the authorities in the hope they could avoid the deadly plague themselves.
The streets were strewn with carcasses, many of which were burned to try and destroy the disease.
In 270 the pandemic claimed the life of emperor Claudius II Gothicus and is thought by some to have contributed to the eventual fall of the Roman Empire.
There are many other incidents of smallpox breaking out around the world through human history, until the deadly disease was eradicated in 1979 after a widespread vaccination campaign.
This area was used to 'slake', or add water to, the lime. The lime production capabilities show just how fearful the locals were of the disease. Now believed to have been caused by smallpox, the plague was so devastating that it led Saint Cyprian to lament that it could signal the 'passing away of the world'
Before becoming a burial chamber for those killed by the Plague of Cyprian, the funerary had been built for an Egyptian grand steward named Harwa in the 7th century BC. Shown here is a grey fragment of decoration from within the monument found inside of the lime kilns
It seems when it came to disposing of the plague victims the 3rd century Egyptians did not hold back in desecrating previous burials and tombs in their panic. Here is seen the face of a second century coffin that was stored as fuel in the entrance of the monument