Author Archives: sdewitte

Introduction – Sharon DeWitte

I am a biological anthropologist in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Carolina. I specialize in paleodemography, paleoepidemiology, and human osteology, and for several years, the focus of my research has been the Black Death.  I am particularly interested in the biological and social factors that affect risks of mortality during epidemics and how epidemics, such as the Black Death, have shaped human biology and demography. I have investigated the mortality patterns of the Black Death using hazard models and skeletal samples from London. Thus far, I’ve found that despite the very high mortality levels of the epidemic, the disease behaved similarly to non-epidemic causes of death by targeting certain individuals, i.e. the elderly and those already in poor health. I am currently examining the context of the emergence of the Black Death (including the effects of famine), and the ways in which the selective mortality of the epidemic affected health and longevity in the post-epidemic population. I am also interested in the molecular biology of the cause of the Black Death and the co-evolution between pathogens and humans in general.