The Atlantic

An Ancient Case of the Plague Could Rewrite History

A 4,900-year-old skeleton has turned the accepted story of the disease on its head.
Source: Karl-Göran Sjögren

The troublesome teeth belonged to a woman buried in Sweden. She lived 4,900 years ago, and she died young. Archaeologists found her at the turn of the last millennium, her bones jumbled up with dozens of others in a limestone tomb. Geneticists sequenced her DNA a few years ago, revealing her to be, unsurprisingly, one of the Neolithic farmers who occupied Europe at the time.

Only when scientists reexamined DNA from two of her teeth last year did they notice something shocking: Her DNA was in there all right, but so were genetic sequences from the bacterium that causes plague. The plague is known to have swept through Europe in later times—most infamously as the

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