The European Black Death as the Source of Ancient and Modern Plague Pandemics

Again a study on the genetic history of the plague.

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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Introduction – Giuseppe Muci

I’m an archaeologist and third-year PhD candidate in Science for Cultural Heritage at the University of Salento (Lecce, in southern Italy). My main fields of interest are landscape and settlement pattern changes in southern Italy from the Late Antique to the Early Modern period, with a specific focus on the transition between Late Medieval and Modern times. In my analyses of socio-economic dynamics I’m trying to link demographic data mainly collected from fiscal sources and settlements data collectet through archaological surveys in the region; the final aim is to understand if subsistence crises could have played a main role in the 14th century demographic decline . In addition to historical and archaological dataset, I make use of quantitative methods and GIS theoretical modelling to analyse human dynamics and settlement trends. On my Academia.edu page you can find a pair of papers focused on the analysis of demographic trends and agrarian sustainability during the Late Middle Ages in Terra d’Otranto province (https://unisalento.academia.edu/GiuseppeMuci).

gmuci

Medieval archaeologist and PhD Fellow in “Science for Cultural Heritage” at the University of Salento, Italy.

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A time of crises: a 14th c. timeline

Nothing new, and no deep analysis, but nevertheless an overview of some events and crises:

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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The Bronze Age Plague

A new study refers to the presence of yersinia pestis in Europe during the late neolithic/early bronze age:

  • Simon Rasmussen/ Morten Erik Allentoft/ Kasper Nielsen/ Ludovic Orlando/ Martin Sikora/ Karl-Göran Sjögren/ Anders Gorm Pedersen/ Mikkel Schubert/ Alex Van Dam/ Christian Moliin Outzen Kapel/ Henrik Bjørn Nielsen/ Søren Brunak/ Pavel Avetisyan/ Andrey Epimakhov/ Mikhail Viktorovich Khalyapin/ Artak Gnuni/ Aivar Kriiska/ Irena Lasak/ Mait Metspalu/ Vyacheslav Moiseyev/ Andrei Gromov/ Dalia Pokutta/ Lehti Saag/ Liivi Varul/ Levon Yepiskoposyan/ Thomas Sicheritz-Pontén/ Robert A. Foley/ Marta Mirazón Lahr/ Rasmus Nielsen/ Kristian Kristiansen/ Eske Willerslev: Early Divergent Strains of Yersinia pestis in Eurasia 5,000 Years Ago. Cell 163/3, 2015, 571–582 (22.10.2015). – DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2015.10.009 – open access!

If these hypothesis of a y.p. as a major trigger of the cultural and demographic changes at the end of the neolithic can be verified, comparisons with the 14th c. crisis will be of some interest. Prehistoric archaeology should check for indications e.g. of wheather extremes, the reorganisation of land use practices and increasing soil erosion in the time before the outbreak of the plague. Furthermore it should be tested, whether the health of the population was probably weak at that time.   However, by now neither the chronological nor the spatial framework of this postulated outbreak is clear.

 

Link

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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A yet unknown reservoir of yersinia pestis in Europe

A new study provides data on long-term presence of yersinia pestis from 14th c. onwards by using analysis of ancient DNA (aDNA). The study is based on two different sites in Germany, spanning a time period of more than 300 years. One of them is the 14th c. mass grave at the St. Leonhard church in Manching-Pichl, which is still an extraordinary site in Germany. Of 30 tested skeletons 8 were positive for Yersinia pestis-specific nucleic acid. As there are some significant similarities between the y.p. evidence with other European findings, the authors conclude, that “beside the assumed continuous reintroduction of Y. pestis from central Asia in multiple waves during the second pandemic, long-term persistence of Y. pestis in Europe in a yet unknown reservoir host has also to be considered.”

In order to understand the 14th c. crisis it will be interesting to see whether their model in which Yersinia pestis “was introduced to Europe from Asia in several waves combined with a long-time persistence of the pathogen in not yet identified reservoirs” is also valid for the time between the 6th and the 14th c. as this has some consequences in understanding possible interaction between landscape changes, extreme weather and the Black Death.

 

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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EAA Vilnius 2016: Plague in diachronic and interdisciplinary perspective – CfP

Call for Paper for the Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologist in Vilnius 31.8.-4.9.2016

http://eaavilnius2016.lt/

logo

Plague, an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, occurred in at least three major historical pandemics: the Justinianic Plague (6th to 8th century), the Black Death (from 14th century onwards), and the modern or Hong Kong Plague (19th to 20th century).Yet DNA from bronze age human skeleton has recently shown that the plague first emerged at least as early as 3000 BC. Plague is, as any disease, both a biological as well as a social entity. Different disciplines can therefore elucidate different aspects of the plague, which can lead to a better understanding of this disease and its medical and social implications.

The session shall address questions like

  • Which disciplines can contribute to the research on the plague? What are their methodological possibilities and limitations?
  • How can they work together in order to come to a more realistic and detailed picture of the
    plague in different times and regions?
  • Which ways had societies to react to the plague? How can they be studied or proved?
  • Which commons and differences can be seen between the Justinianic Plague and later plague epidemics? Are there epidemiological characteristics that are essential and/or unique to plague?
  • What are possible implications of the pandemic spread and endemic occurrence of plague
    through the ages for the interpretation of historical and cultural phenomena?

We would like to invite researchers from the disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, biology, history, medicine and related subjects to present papers in our session.

Abstract nr. TH5-05
Presentation Preference – Regular session (half day)

Author – Gutsmiedl-Schümann, Doris, Universität Bonn, Vor- und Frühgeschichtliche  Archäologie, Bonn, Germany (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Kacki, Sacha, Anthropologie des Populations Passées et Présentes, Université de Bordeaux, Pessac, France
Co-author(s) – Keller, Marcel, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena,
Germany
Co-author(s) – Lee, Christina, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom

Topic – Science and Interdisciplinarity in Archaeology

Keywords: diachronic perspective, Plague

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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A Conference at Rome: CfP “The Crisis of the 14th Century”

http://climatehistorynetwork.com/2015/05/14/cfp-workshop-the-crisis-of-the-14th-century-teleconnections-between-environmental-and-societal-change/

in February 2016 at the German Historical institute at Rome.

Conference Summary: The first half of the 14th century, the transition from the so-called Medieval Climate Anomaly to the so-called Little Ice Age, is one of the few climatic events indicated about equally well in written and physical source.  The ‘crisis of the 14th century’ has also become an established interpretation for certain developments and problems of late medieval Europe. However, such an interpretation has been criticized by some as a contemporary projection of the crisis-ridden 20th and 21st centuries onto the past.

The conference will focus on the imputed climatic deterioration of the 1300s and its presumed impact on medieval economy, society, environment, and culture.   The organizers are calling for proposals for 30-minute presentations. The conference language will be English. Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words, along with a short CV, by 30 June 2015 to both Gerrit J. Schenk (Darmstadt University of Technology) at schenk@pg.tu-darmstadt.de and Martin Bauch (German Historical Institute Rome) at bauch@dhi-roma.it  Accommodation during the conference and travel expenses will be covered.

more details.

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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Introduction and new theses

Hello! My name is Michelle Laughran. I am Associate Professor of History at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine and a historian of the plague and epidemic diseases in Renaissance Venice (https://sjcme.academia.edu/MichelleLaughran). I am thrilled to join the Black Death Network and I look forward to participating in group discussions!

I wanted to inform the group that the latest listing of theses and dissertations by the University of Pittsburgh Health Library Systems has been published, and there are a few entries of potential interest of plague historians… In addition, I also went back through about five years of past issues and dug up other theses relevant to the fourteenth century as well.  Hope they may be useful!

Many thanks for welcoming me and very best wishes, Michelle

Publication #: 3581344
Property, power and patriarchy: The decline of women’s property right in England after the Black Death
Phifer, Michael J., PhD
University of Houston, 2014, 330 pages

Publication #: 3625805
Pestilence and politics: A global history of the Marseille plague
Ermus, Cindy, PhD
Florida State University, 2014, 247 pages

Publication #: 3605732
“Robbed of their Minds”: Madness, Medicine and Society in Southeastern Germany from 1350 to 1500
Koenig, Anne Morgan, PhD
Northwestern University, 2013, 572 pages

Publication #: 3598211
Childless Queens and Child-like Kings: Negotiating Royal Infertility in England, 1382–1471
Geaman, Kristen Lee, PhD
University of Southern California, 2013, 361 pages

Publication #: 3435307
Heaven in a bottle: Franciscan apocalypticism and the elixir, 1250-1360
Matus, Zachary Alexander, PhD
Harvard University, 2010, 245 pages

Publication #: 3423088
The “Carrara Herbal” in context: Imitation, exemplarity, and invention in late fourteenth-century Padua
Kyle, Sarah Rozalja, PhD
Emory University, 2010, 316 pages

Introduction – Joris Roosen

As a first year PhD-candidate, I am working within the “Coordinating for life” project at the University of Utrecht. The project aims to explain why some societies are successful in preventing the effects of major hazards and buffering threats, or in recovering quickly, while others prove highly vulnerable. My specific sub-project focuses on the subject of the Black Death and the recurring waves of plague in late medieval Europe.

My research aims to look at the institutional framework of three regions in order to ascertain why some regions were able to mitigate and recover quickly from the effects of the Black Death whilst others did not.

The regions I will be investigating are coastal Flanders, Picardy and Norfolk.

James le Palmer’s Omne bonum

One of the reasons, why also the BlackDeathNetwork changed its design:
http://arc-medieval.blogspot.ca/2015/03/getting-words-out-and-back-in-what-to.html

The BlackDeathNetwork looks not only on the Black Death, so the picture was not wrong for its intention. However, to avoid misunderstanding, we currently have a picture of a 14th century abandoned village in Southern Germany.

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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Reintroduction or European reservoir? – a key question for possible effects of 14th c. landscape history on the Black Death

A new article deals with the question of reintroductions of the Black Death from Asia and the role of reservoirs of Yersinia pestis in Europe. A database of historically recorded outbreaks of the plague is correlated with climate data from Central Asia as the main reservoir of the plague. As there is a correlation between climate change and outbreaks of the plague in Europe 15± 1 y, the authors see a mechanism starting with a situation, “when
the climate subsequently becomes less favorable, it facilitates the collapse of plague-infected rodent populations, forcing their fleas to find alternative hosts.” Such alternative hosts could be camels, which “are known to become infected relatively easy from infected fleas in plague foci, and can transmit the disease to humans.” Trading with caravans could transport the plague “across ∼4,000 km from the mountains of western Central Asia to the coast of the Black Sea”. The authors compare the transport rate of ∼333–400 km per year with that of the thrd pandemic in China ( ca 123 km per year) and the Black Death in Europe, which is however much faster (1330 km per year).

According to this model the plague of 1348/49 is in fact a reintroduction from Asia. This is remarkable, when thinking of the effect of landscape changes in Central Europe, which in fact created a situation, when anthropogenic alterations of the landscape provided a situation which had the potential to cause extrem weather, soil erosion and effects on rodents’ population. If there was no European reservoir of yersinia pestis at that time in Europe, the risk of an anthropogenic factor in the outbreak of the Black Death is significantly smaller (comp. Yersinia pestis – the missing ecological and historical dimension. Archaeologik [10.11.2011]. Attempting to take an ecological perspective on the Black Death is an important step also for a better understanding of the 14th c. crisis.

Boris V. Schmid; Ulf Büntgen; W. Ryan Easterday; Christian Ginzler; Lars Walløe; Barbara Bramanti; Nils Chr. Stenseth, Climate-driven introduction of the Black Death and successive plague reintroductions into Europe. PNAS Published online before print February 23, 2015 –  doi: 10.1073/pnas.1412887112

with supplements: http://www.pnas.org/content/suppl/2015/02/20/1412887112.DCSupplemental

Authors’ abstract
The Black Death, originating in Asia, arrived in the Mediterranean harbors of Europe in 1347 CE, via the land and sea trade routes of the ancient Silk Road system. This epidemic marked the start of the second plague pandemic, which lasted in Europe until the early 19th century. This pandemic is generally understood as the consequence of a singular introduction of Yersinia pestis, after which the disease established itself in European rodents over four centuries. To locate these putative plague reservoirs, we studied the climate fluctuations that preceded regional plague epidemics, based on a dataset of 7,711 georeferenced historical plague outbreaks and 15 annually resolved tree-ring records from Europe and Asia. We provide evidence for repeated climate-driven reintroductions of the bacterium into European harbors from reservoirs in Asia, with a delay of 15 ± 1 y. Our analysis finds no support for the existence of permanent plague reservoirs in medieval Europe.

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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Looters at a mass burial in France

According to recent press releases we face an increasing number of mass burials all over Europe (recently we had press releases on Ellwangen, Barcelona and London). Currentky there are rescue excavations at Toulouse in France. Around 150 corpses have been found, by now contributed to an outbreak of the plague in 1378.

Several of the skulls have been stolen from the excavation. Looting of archaeological sites is an increasing problem not only in the Near East. In Toulouse the looting of skulls may seriously affect the scientific value of the anthropological data for the analysis of demography, nutrition and the effects of the Black Death.

 

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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Mass Burial in Ellwangen

The BlackDeathNetwork is not only in medieval mass burials, but here is another new discovery, dating to the 16th century from Ellwangen in eastern Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

Rescue excavations in the center of the town Ellwangen brought a burial with around 50 deads.  DNA analysis, realized by the Tübingen research group of Johannes Krause, revealed DNA of yersinia pestis.

By now there is only a short newspaper report in German:

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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Mass Burial in Barcelona

Media report about a mass burial in Barcelona:

It will be interesting to learn, how methodologically the burial has been dated between 1348 and 1375.

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist researcher at Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz - lecturer at Tübingen university

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