Did medieval Black Death reach as far as sub-Saharan Africa?

3-9-2019 n blackdeath
Black Death at Tournai, 1349. Image credit: Bibliotheque Royale de Belgique/Bridgeman Images

[S]ome researchers point to new evidence from archaeology, history, and genetics to argue that the Black Death likely did sow devastation in medieval sub-Saharan Africa.

If proved, the presence of plague would put renewed attention on the medieval trade routes that linked sub-Saharan Africa to other continents. But [researcher Anne] Stone and others caution that the evidence so far is circumstantial; researchers need ancient DNA from Africa to clinch their case.

Historians have found previously unknown mentions of epidemics in Ethiopian texts from the 13th to the 15th centuries, including one that killed “such a large number of people that no one was left to bury the dead.” It’s not clear what the disease was, but historian Marie-Laure Derat of the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris found that by the 15th century, Ethiopians had adopted two European saints associated with plague, St. Roch and St. Sebastian.

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Some genetic evidence supports the idea, too. A 2016 study in Cell Host & Microbe revealed a distinct subgroup of Y. pestis now found only in East and Central Africa is a cousin of one of the strains that devastated Europe in the 14th century.

Read full, original post: The Black Death may have transformed medieval societies in sub-Saharan Africa

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