Hun migrations ‘linked to deadly Justinian Plague’

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Scientists say one of the deadliest plagues in history may be linked to the migration westward of the Hun peoples.

The Justinian Plague, which struck in 541 AD, may have killed as many as 25 million. Now, scientists say the outbreak probably originated in Asia, not Egypt as contemporary and more recent chroniclers had thought.

The finding comes from analysis of DNA found in 137 human skeletons unearthed on the Eurasian steppe.

The steppe region covers a vast area, spanning some 8,000km from Hungary to north-eastern China. The large sample of individuals covers a date range of 2,500 BC – 1,500 AD.

Writing in the journal Nature, Eske Willerslev, Peter de Barros Damgaard and others describe how they sequenced genomes from these individuals and, in two of them, recovered DNA from a strain of plague related to the one responsible for the Justinian Plague. A separate paper in the same edition of the journal describes the discovery of hepatitis B strains in ancient people from the Steppe.

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