The bacteria that casued the Great Plague of London between 1665 and 1666 has been identified for the first time.
The findings come from a suspected Great Plague burial pit during excavation work on the Crossrail site at Liverpool Street.
The plague is known to have killed nearly a quarter of London’s population.
Experts in Germany have been carrying out tests for a whole year and have now confirmed the presence of DNA from the Yersinia pestis bacterium – the agent that causes bubonic plague – rather than another pathogen.
Daniel Defoe recorded details of the period in his 18th century A Journal of the Plague Year.
“The plague, as I suppose all distempers do, operated in a different manner on differing constitutions; some were immediately overwhelmed with it, and it came to violent fevers, vomitings, insufferable headaches, pains in the back, and so up to ravings and ragings with those pains,” Defoe wrote.
“Others with swellings and tumours in the neck or groin, or armpits, which till they could be broke put them into insufferable agonies and torment; while others, as I have observed, were silently infected.”