DNA confirms cause of 1665 London’s Great Plague

DNA testing has for the first time confirmed the identity of the bacteria behind London’s Great Plague.

The plague of 1665-1666 was the last major outbreak of bubonic plague in Britain, killing nearly a quarter of London’s population.It’s taken a year to confirm initial findings from a suspected Great Plague burial pit during excavation work on the Crossrail site at Liverpool Street. About 3,500 burials have been uncovered during excavation of the site.

Testing in Germany confirmed the presence of DNA from the Yersinia pestis bacterium – the agent that causes bubonic plague – rather than another pathogen.

Some authors have previously questioned the identity of pathogens behind historical outbreaks attributed to plague. Daniel Defoe’s 18th century account of the catastrophic event in A Journal of the Plague Year described the gruesome fate of Londoners.

“The plague, as I suppose all distempers do, operated in a different manner on differing constitutions; some were immediately overwhelmed with it, and it came to violent fevers, vomitings, insufferable headaches, pains in the back, and so up to ravings and ragings with those pains,” Defoe wrote. Source: BBC News

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