Skip to comments.Clues to Black Plague’s Fury in 650-Year-Old Skeletons
Posted on 01/28/2008 10:00:36 PM PST by forkinsocket
Many historians have assumed that Europes deadliest plague, the Black Death of 1347 to 1351, killed indiscriminately, young and old, hardy and frail, healthy and sick alike. But two anthropologists were not so sure. They decided to take a closer look at the skeletons of people buried more than 650 years ago.
Their findings, published on Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that the plague selectively took the already ill, while many of the otherwise healthy survived the infection.
Although it may not be surprising that healthy people would be more likely to survive an illness, it is not always the case. The Spanish flu of 1918 killed thousands of healthy people in their prime while sparing many children and the elderly, whose weaker immune systems did not overreact to the infection. Sexually transmitted infections like H.I.V. disproportionately affect the strongest and healthiest, for the obvious reason that they are the most sexually active.
Plague is caused by a bacterium called Yersinia pestis, and it is usually transmitted to humans by fleas; flea-infested rats caused the 14th-century epidemic. The bacteria invade the bloodstream, causing internal bleeding that leads to shock and death.
In the new study, the researchers examined 490 skeletons exhumed from the East Smithfield cemetery in London. The site, like many other cemeteries, was set up to bury victims of the Black Death and was almost certainly used for no other purpose.
The scientists determined the victims state of health when they died by counting bone lesions, defects that suggest previous infections and other existing health problems. The researchers also estimated age at death by noting dental development and using other established methods.
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
I recall reading in school that this plague killed half the people in England, so it seems unlikely that all of these people (IIRC 4 million of them) were already ill.
Six anorexic models lounging in the sun?
Note to self: Get buried in a nice secret location with a lot of rickey terrain so I’m not dug up 600+ years later.
The average around Europe was about one-third dead, with some place essentially depopulated. Prior to modern antibiotics, pesticides, and antiparasitics (mostly tapeworm), I wouldn’t be surprised at all if half the population had some kind of chronic infection or infestation. That doesn’t even include diseases cause by dietary deficiencies such as vit.C or iodine.
A lack of sanitary plumbing, the habit of digging wells next to cesspools, living in cramped quarters in crowded cities, and a lack of understanding the necessity of hygiene caused a large part of the population to be “under the weather” a good part of the time.
Alton Brown - “Good Eats” episode on water
This is why I'm not a research scientist: I never would have been able to figure out that one. Honestly, the reason I think two-thirds of the population were spared is that plague isn't really easy to catch. For the most part, you've got to either get bitten by an infected flea, or inhale droplets from the coughing or sneezing of someone who happens to be suffering from the pneumonic variety of plague. Once you've got it, healthy or not, you're probably going to die unless, as in this day and age, you immediately get medical attention and start antibiotic treatment. I've read a modern case history of a perfectly young and healthy individual catching the disease (via flea bite), showing up in the emergency room and being treated for flu. A day or so later, after the buboes were obvious, it was too late to do anything for him.
fleas have rights too!
can't we all just get along? ;)
oh, that's the at-risk group.
Like, duh. Did they consider the population of neighborhood could have been made up of poor elderly people living in close proximity to each other? As for their take on AIDS, it's not that the more healthy are being infected but the lack of morals.
Yes, it is! Worthwhile reading indeed.
Thanks JennysCool and Kalee. This should be called "Plague of Color" though. ;') Got fork (da da da da) in socket (da da da da) ping.
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