In DepthHistory of Disease

Did Black Death strike sub-Saharan Africa?

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Science  08 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6431, pp. 1022
DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6431.1022

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In the 14th century, the Black Death swept across Europe, Asia, and North Africa, killing up to 50% of the population in some cities. But archaeologists and historians have assumed that the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis, carried by fleas infesting rodents, didn't make it across the Sahara Desert. Now, some 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. Sites in West Africa suddenly shrank or were abandoned in the second half of the 14th century, and the oldest living relative of the Black Death strain survives in pockets in East and Central Africa. But to clinch the case, researchers need to find ancient DNA from the pathogen in the region.