Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Did Syriac reveal the origin of the Black Death?

SYRIAC WATCH: Central Asia source of Black Death pandemic say researchers. Syriac inscriptions on ancient tombstones in cemeteries in modern-day Kyrgyzstan hinted to a trading community devastated by the plague, leading to a multi-disciplinary international study (Judith Sudilovsky, Jerusalem Post).
Now, by utilizing technology from the relatively new archaeological field of archaeogenetics to analyze DNA from human remains found in ancient graves in Kyrgyzstan over 140 years ago, a multidisciplinary team of international researchers suggest that this Second Plague pandemic originated in Central Asia.

Syriac inscriptions on the numerous tombstones noting that the people had died in the years 1338-1339 of an unknown illness provided the researchers with the evidence the cause of their death may have been the plague.

An article in The Conversation by Philip Slavin, one of the head researchers, gives further details: Black death: how we solved the centuries-old mystery of its origins
Without securely dated ancient DNA from Central Asia, however, the question would ultimately remain unsolved.

This changed when I came across records of the Kara-Djigach cemetary – excavated by the Russian archaeologist Nikolai Pantusov in 1885 and 1886 and analysed by the Russian scholar Daniel Chwolson (1819-1911). Of the total 467 stones, covering the period 1248-1345, 118 are dated to 1338 – a suspiciously large proportions of deaths. Most most of the stones have little detail about the person they commemorate, just bearing the names and death dates, but there are ten longer inscriptions from those years, stating “pestilence” (mawtānā in Syriac, the language of ancient Syria) as a cause of death.

It was intriguing. Not only that “pestilence” was mentioned, but that the associated tombstones were all dated to 1338-9 - just seven to eight years before the arrival of the Black Death in Crimea, and its subsequent spread all over west Eurasia and north Africa. I had a strong gut feeling about the likely connection

Genetic sequencing followed. It demonstrated that three of the "pestilence" victims had the Black Death bacterium.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.