Category Archives: Posts

Introduction – Marcel Keller

I am a PhD student in the department Archaeogenetics of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. My academic background is Biology (B.Sc./M.Sc.) with specialization in Anthropology and Human Biology. The main project of my PhD is the reconstruction of genomes of Yersinia pestis of both the first (Justinianic Plague) and second pandemic (following the Black Death) in Europe. Additional ancient genomes of Y. pestis are crucial for phylogenetic analyses and allow a more detailed picture of the spatiotemporal distribution of plague.

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 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 (


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: – 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.



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 ( 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

James le Palmer’s Omne bonum

One of the reasons, why also the BlackDeathNetwork changed its design:

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:

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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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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Black Death in the Media

Black Death today

Belfast Telegraph (21.1.2014): Bubonic plague strain could return –

Gizmodo (28.1.2014): Plague DNA Found in Ancient Tooth Suggests Black Death Isn’t Dead Yet –

The Atlantic (11.4.2014): Avoiding the Black Plague Today –

Decoded Science (6.4.2014): Digging up the Black Death: What Caused the Black Plague, and Are We In Danger? –

New finds in London

The Guardian (29.3.2014): Black death skeletons reveal pitiful life of 14th-century Londoners –

Reuters (30.3.2014): British experts say they have found London’s lost Black Death graves –

DNA studies

International Business Times (22.4.2014): Black Death DNA Mapped to Discover Bubonic Plague Evolution –

Digital journal 825.4.2014): Scientists create Black Death family tree –


MedicalNewsToday (7.5.2014): Were medieval Britons more resilient to disease following the black death? –

The conversation (8.4.2014): No, the Black Death did not create more jobs for women –

Rainer Schreg

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

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Various links from our facebook group

I just collected the links from recent posts in our facebook-group.

Obviously the plague is for most colleagues here the most interesting aspect. However, I would like to emphasize, that we intend to understand the 14th century crisis within a wider context of social, economic and environmental history. – I would be glad, if we could have more contributions also for this broader perspective. It is not necessary to have elaborated scientific articles here. Short references / links to recent publications, own research or conferences may help to have the BlackDeath Network as a plattform of interdisciplinary exchange.

Rainer Schreg

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

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re: Livestock size change in the 14th century

For a little while now, I have been interested in identifying and explaining changes in the size of domestic livestock in the 14th century. This research was originally inspired by my analysis of the animal remains from Dudley Castle, West Midlands, UK, which revealed a statistically-significant increase in the size of cattle, sheep, pig, and even chicken, between two phases of occupation (1262-1321 and 1321-1397). These changes were much earlier than those documented at other sites (mostly 15th-17th century), and I interpreted them  within the context of altered tenurial and agricultural practices in the wake of the Black Death: Thomas, R. 2005. Zooarchaeology, improvement and the British Agricultural Revolution. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 9 (2): 71-88.

Since then, a number of additional sites have provided evidence of livestock size change in the 14th century – seemingly adding weight to this idea. Just recently, however, I have completed a collaborative project exploring size change in domestic livestock in medieval and early modern England, using data from London: Thomas, R., Holmes, M., and Morris, J. 2013. “So bigge as bigge may be”: tracking size and shape change in domestic livestock in London (AD 1220-1900). Journal of Archaeological Science 40 (8): 3309-3325.

In this study, we analysed 7966 individual cattle, sheep, pig and chicken bone measurements from 105 sites excavated in London dating to the period AD 1220–1900 and multiple episodes of size change were identified. The earliest evidence for size change in cattle and sheep occurs in the early 14th century: this is earlier than any previously documented instance of livestock size increase in the medieval period. The fact that only cattle and sheep witness size increase is interesting, given the major outbreaks of disease affecting these animals in the first quarter of the 14th century: sheep murrain was epidemic between 1314 and 1316, while a panzootic in cattle occurred between 1319 and 1322. Given the timing of the size increases and the fact that only cattle and
sheep are affected, re-stocking policies might be an obvious explanation. However, selective breeding from larger animals was probably not the cause: there is no zooarchaeological evidence for large livestock elsewhere in England and Wales in this period and the large-scale transnational cattle trade did not commence until the late 15th century. Perhaps, a temporary relative increase in mean size may have
occurred in the archaeological (death) assemblage, because of relatively lower slaughter rates of female cattle following the pestilence. This might be explained by the
fact that the slaughtering of females, which survived the panzootic, might have been delayed, to re-populate the herds; consequently, survivors were used for a longer period than would have normally been the case. Alternatively, the larger size of cattle and sheep may reflect the actions of natural selection. It is entirely conceivable that smaller, weaker animals were more susceptible to malnutrition and ultimately mortality, while the larger, healthier animals survived to perpetuate their genes.

At the moment I am fairly open about the most likely explanation, but I would welcome any thoughts if you have any.