Yersinia pestis genomes reveal plague in Britain 4000 years ago

Swali, Pooja, Schulting, Rick, Gilardet, Alexandre, Kelly, Monica, Anastasiadou, Kyriaki, Glocke, Isabelle, McCabe, Jesse, Williams, Mia, Audsley, Tony, Loe, Louise, Fernández-Crespo, Teresa, Ordoño, Javier, Walker, David, Clare, Tom, Cook, Geoff, Hodkinson, Ian, Simpson, Mark, Read, Stephen, Davy, Tom, Silva, Marina, Hajdinjak, Mateja, Bergström, Anders ORCID:, Booth, Thomas and Skoglund, Pontus (2023) Yersinia pestis genomes reveal plague in Britain 4000 years ago. Nature Communications, 14 (1). ISSN 2041-1723

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Extinct lineages of Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of the plague, have been identified in several individuals from Eurasia between 5000 and 2500 years before present (BP). One of these, termed the ‘LNBA lineage’ (Late Neolithic and Bronze Age), has been suggested to have spread into Europe with human groups expanding from the Eurasian steppe. Here, we show that the LNBA plague was spread to Europe’s northwestern periphery by sequencing three Yersinia pestis genomes from Britain, all dating to ~4000 cal BP. Two individuals were from an unusual mass burial context in Charterhouse Warren, Somerset, and one individual was from a single burial under a ring cairn monument in Levens, Cumbria. To our knowledge, this represents the earliest evidence of LNBA plague in Britain documented to date. All three British Yersinia pestis genomes belong to a sublineage previously observed in Bronze Age individuals from Central Europe that had lost the putative virulence factor yapC. This sublineage is later found in Eastern Asia ~3200 cal BP. While the severity of the disease is currently unclear, the wide geographic distribution within a few centuries suggests substantial transmissibility.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: P. Sk. was supported by the Vallee Foundation, the European Research Council (grant no. 852558), the European Molecular Biology Organisation, the Wellcome Trust (217223/Z/19/Z), and Francis Crick Institute core funding (FC001595) from Cancer Research UK, the UK Medical Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust. M.H. was supported by Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions (grant no. 844014). Osteological analyses of Charterhouse Warren human skeletal assemblage were supported by the British Academy (SG163375), with funding for radiocarbon dating supplied through NERC’s NEIF programme (NF/2018/1/3) to R.S. We thank Allan Steward and the Levens Local History Group for their collaboration on this project. Archaeological work in Levens ring cairn was supported by a CWAAS grant to Levens Local History Group (to T.C., G.C., I.H., M. Simpson, S.R.). This research was funded in whole, or in part, by the Wellcome Trust (FC001595 and 217223/Z/19/Z). Open Access funding provided by The Francis Crick Institute. Rights retention statement: For the purpose of Open Access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission.
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Science > School of Biological Sciences
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Depositing User: LivePure Connector
Date Deposited: 14 Nov 2023 11:16
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2024 10:31
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-38393-w


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