New studies reveal that there might have been a different rodent responsible for the spreading of one of the most deadly epidemic in history: the gerbil.
According to a study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists analyzed climate data which dates back to the 14th century. The data contradicts what was commonly believed, that the European bubonic plague was caused by fleas that lived on the black rat.
Nils Christian Stenseth, one of the authors of the study, said that there needed to have been warm summers with not much rain. He adds that there is no link between the appearance of the bubonic plague and the weather.
Instead, the study suggests that the terrible “Black Death” was linked to the Asian climate of that time.
The scientists analyzed 15 tree-ring records, which are known to document yearly weather conditions, and the results showed that Europe experienced plague outbreaks after Asia had a wet spring season and a warm summer.
These weather conditions are not suitable for the black rat, but are ideal for the Asian gerbil population.
According to the research, the gerbil traveled to Europe via the Silk Road and arrived years later. This coincided with the appearance of the bubonic plague in Europe.
The new findings absolve the previous culprit, the black rat, for the deaths of more than 100 million people, occurred during the second plague pandemic.
Experts believe the second plague pandemic began during the second half of the 14th century and returned later in the 1800s.
This isn’t the first study that challenges what is known about the bubonic plague.
Scientists conducted a study last year analyzing the DNA of 25 skeletons dating back to the 14th century. The analysis revealed that the disease was not carried by fleas but was rather contracted through the air.
Stenseth said that further studies are needed to determine whether in fact the diseased was caused by the fleas of black rats or of the Asian gerbil.
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