DNA of mummified child could rewrite history

Smallpox has, without question, brought great devastation, but a recent study of a 17th century Lithuanian mummy carrying the disease causing variola virus may rewrite the history of how long its reign of terror ensued.

Though it has long been believed that the illness dates back thousands of years, the strains found in the remains of a child suggests smallpox may only date back a handful of centuries.

A research team led by scientists from DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University in Ontario examined the evolution of the virus sample and found its history extended no further than 1588.

Ana Duggan, the study's lead author notes that while the date, "...is more recent than we would expect for a virus that has supposedly been afflicting humans for millennia...[it] correlates with historical records which show that there is little suggestion of epidemic smallpox in Europe before the 16th century."

While there is uncertainty as to when smallpox first became a significant threat, it is known when the scourge came to an end.

Smallpox was eradicated in 1980, notes CNN.

RELATED: See photos of a 1,500-year-old mummy unwrapped: