Register | Forgot Your Password? | Close

PHOENIX -- Northern Arizona University scientists have reportedly discovered the source of a plague that wiped out millions of people in ancient Rome about 1,500 years ago.

According to National Public Radio, the scientists were able to trace the plague's DNA from that leftover in the teeth of it's victims.

"Some of the estimates are that up to 50 million people died," says evolutionary biologist David Wagner at Northern Arizona University. "It's thought that the Justinian plague actually led partially to the downfall of the Roman Empire."

Wagner and his team believe the source of the Justinian plague is not the same as the one that caused the Black Death in the 14th Century, which was transmitted by fleas, but instead a bacteria strain that jumped from rodent to human before dying out.

The DNA also led Wagner's team to believe the plague originated in China, the same location as the Black Death.

The Justinian plague went around in 541, claiming victims in Europe, Asia and northern Africa. Historians said it was so rampant people wore name tags in case they passed suddenly and thousands were buried in mass graves.

The study was sparked after the remains of several plague victims were disinterred near Munich by a housing developer. Their DNA, containing that of the Justinian plague, was extracted from dental pulp.,

share this story:
Attention Comment Users: We have recently changed our comments boards.
We would like you to be part of the conversation and The Voice of Arizona by logging in with your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Disqus account. Existing KTAR (Arizona Sports) account members will need to create a Disqus account or use one of the aforementioned social media logins. Thank you.
comments powered by Disqus

World Class Arizona

  • Dignity Health

    World Class People. World Class Company. Excellent care, delivered with compassion, for all in need.
  • Family in Focus

    KTAR spends the week taking a look at the issues a modern Arizona family faces.