Pathogens contributed to the fall of some ancient civilizations, Study says

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Scientists had attributed the fall of several ancient civilizations, including the Akkadian Empire, the ancient kingdom of Egypt, to factors such as climate change and shifting loyalties. However, a new study proposes that this may be due to some extinct pathogens. Archaeologists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have unearthed remains of an ancient burial site in Crete, Greece, called Hagios Charalambos. There they found genetic evidence of two bacteria responsible for causing typhoid and plague.

The team, led by archaeologists Gunnar Neumann, chose the site because of its cool and stable conditions, as TSTIME tends to degrade at higher temperatures. They began by sifting through the ancient bones and collecting TSTIME from the teeth of 32 individuals who had died between 2290 and 1909 BCE.

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In the genetic data, the team found common oral bacteria. In two of the individuals, they detected the presence of Y. pestis, while in the other two individuals, two lines of the Salmonella enterica bacterium, which causes typhoid fever, were found. The findings indicated that both pathogens existed on Crete during the Bronze Age and may have been transmissible during that time.

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Although the transmission route of these pathogens is not clear to the researchers, they noted that the genera of the S. enterica found had no traits responsible for causing serious disease in humans.

“Although it is unlikely that Y. pestis or S. enterica were the sole culprits responsible for the societal changes observed in the Mediterranean at the end of the 3rd millennium BC, possibly in an interplay with climate and migration, which has been previously suggested,” the researchers wrote in their research paper published in Current Biology

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