A Silk Road stopover might have been the epicentre of one of humanity’s most destructive pandemics.

People who died in a fourteenth-century outbreak in what is now Kyrgyzstan were killed by strains of the plague-causing bacterium Yersinia pestis that gave rise to the pathogens responsible several years later for the Black Death, shows a study of ancient genomes.

“It is like finding the place where all the strains come together, like with coronavirus where we have Alpha, Delta, Omicron all coming from this strain in Wuhan,” says Johannes Krause, a palaeogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who co-led the study, published on 15 June in Nature.

Fascinating read on new research on the origins of Black Death. As you can imagine, it’s not an easy task to find genomic data from the plague bacteria, several centuries after the pandemic. Then, like now, how the pandemic spread mattered quite a lot of how and where a lot of humans came together and then dispersed, carrying the deadly disease with them.