An analysis of Bacterium DNA found in two skeletons dating to roughly 4,000 years ago may have led to the death of ancient Siberians. The plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, infected people living west of lake Baikal.
The genetic study also suggests that the plague might have led to collapses in the population there, and influenced the genetic structure of the people who survived the virus.
The bacterium may have led to changes in genetic structure
A team led by evolutionary geneticists Gülşah Merve Kilinç and Anders Götherström, both of Stockholm University, extracted DNA from the remains of 40 human skeletons excavated from parts of eastern Siberia.
The DNA from Yersinia Pestis, the bacterium that caused the plague, was going in two ancient Siberians. One person lived around 4,400 years ago, while the other dated to roughly 3,800 years ago.
The finding raises the possibility that the plague not only led to the die-offs that occurred during that era, but it also influenced the genetic structure of northeast Asians who trekked to North America starting perhaps 5,500 years ago.
Researchers unclear about how the bacterium reached Siberia
Götherström and his team is still unclear about how the plague reached Siberia, or if it caused widespread infections and death. They did learn that genetic diversity in their ancient samples of human DNA declined sharply from around 4,700 to 4,400 years ago, possibly the result of population collapse.
Another evolutionary geneticist, Hendrik Poinar of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada says the plague may have reached Siberia by roughly 4,500 years ago, at a time when Y. pestis infected people inhabiting other parts of Eurasia.
Either way, the genetic findings provide a glimpse of a series of previously unknown ancient population shifts in that region.