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Bubonic Plague Traced To Ancient Egypt (Black Death)
National Geographic News ^ | 3-10-2004 | Cameron Walker

Posted on 03/11/2004 3:40:50 PM PST by blam

Bubonic Plague Traced to Ancient Egypt

Cameron Walker
for National Geographic News
March 10, 2004

The bubonic plague, or Black Death, may have originated in ancient Egypt, according to a new study. "This is the first time the plague's origins in Egypt have been backed up by archaeological evidence," said Eva Panagiotakopulu, who made the discovery. Panagiotakopulu is an archaeologist and fossil-insect expert at the University of Sheffield, England.

King Tutankhamun lies in his burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. Some researchers now believe that the bubonic plague, or Black Death, originated in the village where builders of Tutankhamun's tomb lived.

Photograph by Victor R. Boswell, Jr., copyright National Geographic Society

While most researchers consider central Asia as the birthplace of the deadly epidemic, the new study—published recently in the Journal of Biogeography—suggests an alternate starting point.

"It's usually thought that the plague entered from the East," said B. Joseph Hinnebusch, a microbiologist at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana. The new study suggests that North Africa could also be the source of the epidemic, he said.

The bacteria-caused plague is more than a grim historical footnote today. The African island of Madagascar experienced outbreaks in the late 1990s, and some worry about the plague's potential use as an agent of bioterrorism.

Information about past epidemics could help scientists predict where new outbreaks would occur and better understand how the disease spreads, Hinnebusch said.

Plague in Europe

The most famous plague outbreak swept through Europe in the 1300s. Dubbed the Black Death, the disease killed more than 25 million people—one-fourth of the continent's population. The nursery rhyme "Ring Around the Rosy" is traced to the plague's rose-colored lesions and deadly spread.

Earlier outbreaks also decimated Europe. The Justinian Plague claimed as many as a hundred million lives in the Byzantine Empire during the sixth century A.D.

The bacterium that causes bubonic plague, Yersinia pestis, lives inside the gut of its main carrier, the flea. The plague likely spread to Europe on the backs of shipboard black rats that carried plague-infested fleas.

"It's the plague's unholy trinity," said Michael Antolin, a biologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, who studies bubonic plague in black-tailed prairie dogs.

Inside the flea, bacteria multiply and block off the flea's throat-like area. The flea gets increasingly hungry. When it bites—whether rat or human—it spits some bacteria out into the bite wound.

People can contract several forms of the plague. The main form, bubonic, often starts out with fever, chills, and enlarged lymph nodes. But if the bacteria make their way into the lungs, a deadlier form, called pneumonic plague, can be spread from person to person. Pneumonic plague occurs in about 5 percent of those infected with bubonic plague.

Several researchers have suggested that Europe's Black Death spread too fast and killed too many to be attributed to bubonic plague. But plague experts Hinnebusch and Antolin said that the pneumonic plague form could have been responsible for the quick-spreading epidemic.

"If you inhale it, you're pretty much dead," Antolin said.

Pharaohs' Plague

Panagiotakopulu came upon clues to the plague's presence in ancient Egypt by accident. She had been looking at fossil insect remains to learn about daily life more than 3,000 years ago.

"People lived close to their domestic animals and to the pests that infected their household," Panagiotakopulu said. "I just started looking at what diseases people might have, what diseases their pigs might have, and what diseases might have been passed from other animals to humans."

The researcher used a fine sieve to strain out remains of insects and small mammals from several sites. Panagiotakopulu, who is conducting similar work on Viking ruins in Greenland, said that looking at insects is a key way to reconstruct the past. "I can learn about how people lived by looking in their homes and at what was living with and on them," she said.

In Egypt Panagiotakopulu combed the workers'-village site in Amarna, where the builders of the tombs of Egyptian kings Tutankhamun and Akhenaton lived. There, the researcher unearthed cat and human fleas—known to be plague carriers in some cases—in and around the workers' homes. That find spurred Panagiotakopulu to believe that the bubonic plague's fleaborne bacteria could also have been lurking in the area, so she went in search of other clues.

Previous excavations along the Nile Delta had turned up Nile rats, an endemic species, dating to the 16th and 17th century B.C. The plague's main carrier flea is thought to be native to the Nile Valley and is known to be a Nile rat parasite.

According to Panagiotakopulu, the Nile provided an ideal spot for rats to carry the plague into urban communities. Around 3500 B.C., people began to build cities next to the Nile. During floods, the habitat of the Nile rat was disturbed, sending the rodent—and its flea and bacterial hitchhikers—into the human domain.

Egyptian writings from a similar time period point to an epidemic disease with symptoms similar to the plague. A 1500 B.C. medical text known as the Ebers Papyrus identifies a disease that "has produced a bubo, and the pus has petrified, the disease has hit."

It's possible that trade spread the disease to black rats, which then carried the bacteria to other sites of plague epidemics. Panagiotakopulu suspects that black rats, endemic to India, arrived in Egypt with sea trade. In Egypt the rats picked up plague-carrying fleas and were later born on ships that sailed across the Mediterranean to southern Europe.

Present-day Plague

"Most people think of the plague as a historical disease," said Hinnebusch, who conducts plague research for the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "But it's still out there, and it's still an international public health issue."

During the last ten years bubonic plague reappeared in Madagascar, which now has between 500 and 2,000 new cases each year.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization tallies as many as 3,000 plague cases each year around the world. Research interest in bubonic plague has been growing as, like anthrax, it could be used as a deadly bioterrorism agent (especially in pneumonic form).

While antibodies can be extremely effective against early stages of the plague, scientists are trying to learn more about how it works to be able to predict outbreaks and counteract the bacterium's scrambling of the immune system.

"There are so many unanswered questions about the plague," Hinnebusch said.

The plague will sleep for decades, even centuries, reemerge, and then seem to vanish again.

Panagiotakopulu said she wants to continue to track the evidence for the plague in Egypt and elsewhere to expand understanding of the still-mysterious epidemic.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: 536ad; ancient; archaeology; blackdeath; blackplague; bubonic; bubonicplague; egypt; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; helixmakemineadouble; history; plague; to; traced; turass; yersiniapestis
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1 posted on 03/11/2004 3:40:51 PM PST by blam
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To: farmfriend
Ping.
2 posted on 03/11/2004 3:41:20 PM PST by blam
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To: blam
AQ's Winds of Black Death. Time to stock up on Hartz Tick and Flea dog shampoo.
3 posted on 03/11/2004 3:51:08 PM PST by mtbopfuyn
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To: blam
We have plague here in California in squirrels in parks. Never, never touch a wild squirrel! Every year they find more.
4 posted on 03/11/2004 3:55:04 PM PST by EggsAckley (..................IGNORE the trolls...................it drives them crazy)
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To: blam
This theory has been batted around for awhile, along with the theory small pox may have originated in Egypt also.

DNA evidence of Yersina pestis has been found in the teeth of some of the Middle Age's Black Death victims. It will be interesting (if it's possible????) to see if plague DNA shows up in any Egyptian remains.
5 posted on 03/11/2004 4:06:33 PM PST by lizma
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To: lizma
"It will be interesting (if it's possible????) to see if plague DNA shows up in any Egyptian remains."

I expect they'll look. Afterall, they've already found cocaine and nicotine in the most ancient Egyptian mummies.

6 posted on 03/11/2004 4:23:01 PM PST by blam
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To: blam
On a recent airline trip I happened to sit next to a scientist who investigates the plague for a large university medical school (he was a research and teaching physician). He advanced the theory that it would be highly unlikely, in fact, almost impossible, for the plague to gain any foothold in the U.S., Japan or Western Europe today because of the frequency with which today's societies showers or bathes with soap and hot water. The antibacterial effect of bath soap would deter the growth and be a hostile environment for the bug that causes the symptoms and sequence of the disease.
7 posted on 03/11/2004 4:29:35 PM PST by middie
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To: blam
Eva Panagiotakopulu

By the time you've pronounced her name, another dynasty has passed.

8 posted on 03/11/2004 4:53:28 PM PST by IronJack
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To: blam; *Gods, Graves, Glyphs; A.J.Armitage; abner; adam_az; AdmSmith; Alas Babylon!; ...
Gods, Graves, Glyphs
List for articles regarding early civilizations , life of all forms, - dinosaurs - etc.
Let me know if you wish to be added or removed from this ping list.
9 posted on 03/11/2004 4:55:23 PM PST by farmfriend ( Isaiah 55:10,11)
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To: blam
Question? What is the oldest specimen where DNA has been able to be extracted? And under what conditions?
10 posted on 03/11/2004 5:05:39 PM PST by lizma
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To: lizma
"Question? What is the oldest specimen where DNA has been able to be extracted? And under what conditions?"

I believe I read that DNA was extracted from a 224 million year old bacteria that was trapped inside a salt crystal. (I'll look and post on it if I find anything)

11 posted on 03/11/2004 5:12:19 PM PST by blam
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To: blam
Some recent scholarship on the Great Plaugue posits that it was actually two plagues aperating simultaneously. One was the traditonal bubonic plauge spread by flea bites or another infected person. The other is as yet unknown but some suspect a deadly flu virus. Two types of symptons have repeatedly been talked mentioned by primary sources- one is the bubous swelling, black oozing pus symptons and the other is a bubous free fierce fever that dehydrated the body and could kill in as little as 24 hours.
12 posted on 03/11/2004 5:15:23 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: middie
Europeon cities were filthy in 1349. I can't imagine the smells that they put up with.
13 posted on 03/11/2004 5:18:14 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Burkeman1
I read a bit about these new theories. Another possible explanation is anthrax. Indeed tests done on areas where black death victims were buried in mass graves in England produced anthrax spores. Some still living, I think!
14 posted on 03/11/2004 5:21:51 PM PST by SoCal Pubbie
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.
15 posted on 03/11/2004 5:22:44 PM PST by Mo1 (Do you want a president who injects poison into his skull for vanity?)
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To: lizma
This is all I found.

Thirty Million-Year Sleep: Germ Is Declared Alive!

There were much older spores waiting to be revived. On May 19, 1995, The New York Times carried a front-page story about them (4). Biologists Raul Cano and Monica Borucki had extracted bacterial spores from bees preserved in amber in Costa Rica. Amber is tree-sap that hardens and persists as a fossil.
This amber had entrapped some bees and then hardened between 25 and 40 million years ago.
Bacteria living in the bees' digestive tracts had recognized a problem and turned themselves into spores. When placed in a suitable culture, the spores came right back to life.

As a control, the two biologists also attempted to culture from the same amber a number of samples that contained no bee parts. These cultures were negative, adding credibility to the experiment. This finding was originally reported in the journal Science (5) to general acceptance.

16 posted on 03/11/2004 5:22:57 PM PST by blam
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Comment #17 Removed by Moderator

To: SoCal Pubbie
Yes- Anthrax may also been a third cause of death but that theory is limited to England. But England suffered worse than did the continent so I can see three biological germs killing people in England very easily. They lost upwards of a full 3rd of their population. Before the plague the Population of England and Wales was 6 million. It wouldn't reach that level again until 1750.
18 posted on 03/11/2004 5:25:20 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: SoCal Pubbie
Ironically- that England suffered even worse in the Black Death than did the rest of Europe is the reason why surfdom and Feudalism died more quickly and a substantial class of free yoeman peasenty arose. With far fewer hands available to work the fields- serfs found they could easily demand concessions and greater freedoms from their lords as labor was scarce. The price of labor shot up in England and in Wales. Eventually lords had to even sell some of their vast estates to productive serfs.
19 posted on 03/11/2004 5:30:16 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: lizma
Here's the one I think I was thinking about...no mention of DNA though

It's Alive! A 250-Million-Year-Old Bacterium Found In Salt Crystal

20 posted on 03/11/2004 5:31:06 PM PST by blam
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To: Burkeman1
IFRC, the book discussed social conditions at the time, in which large herds of livestock was kept in city pens to meet the growing needs for beef in the urban areas. The crowding of cows and of course the lack of knowledge of the time created a perfect breeding ground for anthrax. I'm pretty sure there was some discussion of anthrax elsewhere, but perhaps that was simply transmission with the ultimate destination of England.

I believe there were also symptoms that do not fit bubonic plague but match closely other ailments like anthrax.
21 posted on 03/11/2004 5:31:06 PM PST by SoCal Pubbie
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To: Burkeman1
Yes, I read about that. Also the belief that the disease was airborne caused "doctors" to recommend hanging heavy window coverings as a precaution, and there was a boom in the market for tapestries!
22 posted on 03/11/2004 5:33:28 PM PST by SoCal Pubbie
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To: SoCal Pubbie
The book "In the Wake of the Plague" mentions that England had a climate at the time that was particularly conducive towards an Anthrax epidemic starting up.
23 posted on 03/11/2004 5:33:59 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Burkeman1
Plague In The Ancient World
24 posted on 03/11/2004 5:35:10 PM PST by blam
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To: SoCal Pubbie
The Pope at the tme of the Black Death had some crazy doctor that told him to always have torches and large fires burning around him to ward of the plague. He followed the docs advice even during the hot summer months and he lived. Then again no Germ could get to him being surrounded by fires.

The social mobility after the black death was tremondous especially in England. A third of the population is dead. Entire villages gone and fertile A rate land available at rock bottom prices but with the same amount of coinage in circulation! The years after the plaugue have been described as ones of glutonous hedonism.
25 posted on 03/11/2004 5:39:29 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Burkeman1
I believe that was the one I looked at. I was just browsing at Barnes & Noble, so I did not read the whole thing. I also remember the book saying that if you were descended from a European that got the plague and survived, you may be immune to AIDS!

Since I saw old movies about the black death as a kid, I've been fascinated by the topic. The idea of mass deaths, without the attendant destruction of war, the cries of "bring out your dead", the thought of burning piles of diseased corpses, and the chilling thought it could reoccur, was always Twilight Zone territory for me. I guess a repressed mass memory of these old plagues forms the basis of the popularity of zombie movies like 28 Days Later.
26 posted on 03/11/2004 5:44:49 PM PST by SoCal Pubbie
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To: SoCal Pubbie
Ever since seeing Omega Man I have been fascinated by the plague phenom and it's effects. Even greater than the Black Death in Europe was the Europeon epidemics that struck the native populations of the Western Hemisphere. After initial contact these diseases spread far in advance of white exploration. Thus by the time the Spanish were expolring Mississippi and and Louisianna small pox had already wiped out the great mound building and settled town culture of those Indians tribes. They found deserted towns and villages and only scattered bands of Indians living as hunter gatherers again instead of as farmers as they had been. And this was only about 40 years after the epidemic had struck. By the time the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock various Europeon diseases that had spread to the New England Natives from that first contact with the spanish had most likely already killed 75 percent of the population 50 years earlier before they ever layed eyes on a white man. Pizzaro conquered the Inca after they had fallen into civil war because the epidemics had traveled ahead of him and had killed 50 percent of the Inca just a few years earlier and was still raging. Germs were responsible for the Conquest of the Americans by Western culture more than any other factor.
27 posted on 03/11/2004 5:58:02 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: SoCal Pubbie; blam
Just curious. Anyone know roughly what the survival rate was from the Black Death?
28 posted on 03/11/2004 6:05:51 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Battle Axe
Yes, Frontline & Advantage are excellent to keep fleas off your dogs. Be sure to be careful about using them on your cat with out the advice of your vet. One of those can be toxic to cats, can't remember which one.
29 posted on 03/11/2004 6:07:48 PM PST by Ditter
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To: Burkeman1
Have you ever seen The Last man on Earth with Vincent Price? Like Omega Man, it was also based on I Am Legend (which is also supposed to be filmed soon).
30 posted on 03/11/2004 6:11:30 PM PST by SoCal Pubbie
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To: Burkeman1
"The social mobility after the black death was tremondous especially in England."

Wages went way up too.

31 posted on 03/11/2004 6:15:56 PM PST by blam
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To: SoCal Pubbie
I have seen portions of it. Rather hoaky though.
32 posted on 03/11/2004 6:17:51 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: blam
They skyrocketed. Surviving serfs suddenly found themselves competed over by Lords. They would entice serfs of one Lord's estate to runaway to his with the promise of money or greater benefits. They also pressed their own demands for less obligation work to the Manor estate. Whereas runaway serfs were routinely returned to their estates by another lord before the plague- they were competed for with grants of land and cash payments.
33 posted on 03/11/2004 6:26:48 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: blam
Let's send some Atomic vaccine to the rats in Syria and Iran.
34 posted on 03/11/2004 6:30:47 PM PST by Henchman (I Hench, therefore I am!)
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To: SoCal Pubbie
Try 'earth abides'....George Stewart
35 posted on 03/11/2004 6:35:05 PM PST by glasseye
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To: middie
Sounds reasonable. I think SARS spread in China the way it did do a lack of understanding in basic hygiene and housekeeping (i.e. running water over an object cleans it.)

It's been theorized that the Y. pestis in the Middle Ages was a much more virulent strain than it is now. I don't think so. Sanitation and antibiotics today prevent any disasters. Although it is theoretically possible, it is technically unlikely to produce an antibiotic resistant strain of plague.If they did, that would be a bit of a bugger.

On an interesting side note: The History Channel had a show a few months back discussing WWII bio-terrorism. They said the Japanese had discovered a way to infest fleas with biological agents (plague, typhoid, diphtheria... All infectious diseases naturally occurring in order not to initially raise suspicion) and had devised a bomb with the ability to unload these fleas over a large population (They stated San Diego was the target). They claimed they had been quite "successful" in using a crop dusting method in Manchuria to infect the population leading to many deaths. Suspicion were never raised since the diseases were endemic to the area.

All in all I think large scale bio-terrorism is not something to worry about. You can't predict it's borders and today's terrorist are to into the shock value of their endeavors. Kill a massive amount of innocent quickly makes them proud of themselves. It the nature of the beast.
36 posted on 03/11/2004 6:52:44 PM PST by lizma
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To: SoCal Pubbie
There are to this day mass plague graves in England that can not be touched. I suspect that's a good plan!
37 posted on 03/11/2004 6:57:10 PM PST by lizma
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To: middie
He advanced the theory that it would be highly unlikely, in fact, almost impossible, for the plague to gain any foothold in the U.S., Japan or Western Europe today because of the frequency with which today's societies showers or bathes with soap and hot water. The antibacterial effect of bath soap would deter the growth and be a hostile environment for the bug that causes the symptoms and sequence of the disease.

That means France is still at risk.

38 posted on 03/11/2004 7:01:24 PM PST by Moonman62
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To: farmfriend
This is fascinating. I had no idea that the Plague was this old.

Polio and cancer have been found in Egyptians mummies and the evidence of other diseases,as well. Thank GOD, that we now have vaccines against so many diseases that used to kill or disfigure or cripple so many in the past.

39 posted on 03/11/2004 7:01:24 PM PST by nopardons
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.
40 posted on 03/11/2004 7:04:59 PM PST by StriperSniper (Manuel Miranda - Whistleblower)
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To: Burkeman1
Europeon cities were filthy in 1349.

Lately I've been reading about medicine and sanitation during the civil war. It wasn't any better by any means.Not only were the camps disease ridden but so were the hospitals

It was at that point in time when Americans took notice that filth was not a good thing and the concurrently (well actually a little bit before) Edward Jenner, not only discovered the vaccine, but sterility in the surgical setting and clean is good.

It seems like common sense now, but they really didn't have a clue back then.

41 posted on 03/11/2004 7:16:53 PM PST by lizma
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To: lizma
It wasn't any better even by WWI. The scandal of that war was that 20,000 had died due to disease because of filthy, hastily built training camps without any sanitation. And this was State side- not "Over There".
42 posted on 03/11/2004 7:30:37 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: nopardons
Both my parents knew of children taken by polio. Jonas Faulk was truly a hero back then.
43 posted on 03/11/2004 7:32:05 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: blam
Bacteria living in the bees' digestive tracts had recognized a problem and turned themselves into spores. When placed in a suitable culture, the spores came right back to life.

Is it just me but I'm hard pressed to think spores millions of years old come back to life? It's not thinking these guys are liars but the fact this occurrence is so amazing.

If it's true we haven't begin to touch the wonders and complexities of life. It's not so much how but why?

44 posted on 03/11/2004 7:52:28 PM PST by lizma
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To: lizma
"If it's true we haven't begin to touch the wonders and complexities of life. It's not so much how but why?"

You'd be suprised. Three-quarters of all living things on earth are underground/water.

45 posted on 03/11/2004 7:58:05 PM PST by blam
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To: nopardons
That should be "Saulk" and not "Faulk". duh.
46 posted on 03/11/2004 8:06:07 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Burkeman1
It wasn't any better even by WWI.

Wow. Didn't know that.

I would have thought they would learned from history, but even by today standards it's obvious it's not a given.

Concerning your previous comments on the birth of a desired, valued work force as a result of the plague, was that the first seed of capitalism in Western civ?

Part of me is dishearten, part of me is amazed that it seems to take tragedy to move the human race forward.

47 posted on 03/11/2004 8:14:40 PM PST by lizma
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To: blam
Bush knew.
48 posted on 03/11/2004 8:14:54 PM PST by pax_et_bonum (Always finish what you st)
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To: lizma
I have argued that point actually. I have called the Black Death the central event in the concept of "Rule of Law" and of "market forces" and a pivotal event in English History. It was truly formitive. It also distinguished even the role of women as being able to hold title to land. With the spread of land ownership to many who had previously been without land before the Black Death- a need arouse for "lawyers" in land disputes, real estate transactions, complaints against a neighbor over water rights, etc . . . These were not adressed by the Crown- but rouse up naturally among these recently freed land owners. But from where did this tendency to rely on "common law" come from? Is that unique to English/western culture?
49 posted on 03/11/2004 8:23:09 PM PST by Burkeman1
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To: Burkeman1
England had a climate at the time that was particularly conducive towards an Anthrax epidemic starting up.

There was a period of global cooling at the time in the 14th century that was also conducive to human animal spacial proximity. Even back then we learn sleeping with sheep is not a good idea. Still history repeats itself, at least in San Fransico and Europe.

50 posted on 03/11/2004 8:34:54 PM PST by lizma
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