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Researchers say they believe DNA found in graves of bubonic plague victims buried in Central Asia has proved the origins of the disease that killed millions of people in the mid-14th century.

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A paper published Wednesday explained how researchers extracted DNA traces of Yersinia pestis plague bacterium from the teeth of three women buried in a medieval community in what is now northern Kyrgyzstan.

The women died sometime between 1338 and 1339. The women from whom the DNA was collected were buried in a cemetery where headstones attributed deaths to “pestilence” in the Syriac language.

The DNA find helped researchers pinpoint the area they believe the plague that became known as the Black Death – named for black spots that appeared on the victims of the disease – had its origin.

“There have been a number of different hypotheses suggesting that the pandemic may have originated in East Asia, specifically China, in Central Asia, in India, or even close to where the first outbreaks were documented in 1346 in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea regions,” said archaeogeneticist and study lead author Maria Spyrou of the University of Tübingen in Germany.

The researchers found that trade along the so-called Silk Road, an ancient trade route that linked Europe with the Middle East and Asia, was the way the plague spread across the known world.

“We know that trade was likely a determining factor to the dispersal of plague into Europe during the beginning of the Black Death. It is reasonable to hypothesize that similar processes determined the spread of the disease from Central Asia to the Black Sea between 1338 and 1346,” Spyrou added.

The Black Death is believed to have killed up to two-thirds of the population in parts of Western Europe and 50% in the Middle East, resulting in 50-60 million deaths, making the pandemic the deadliest in recorded history.

An “unaccountable number” of people also died in the Caucasus, Iran and Central Asia, historian Philip Slavin of the University of Stirling in Scotland, co-author of the study published in the journal Nature, told Reuters.

According to Slavin, the plague was transmitted through bites of fleas that had been on infected rats. The pandemic originated in rodents, Slavin added.