Acceleration of plague outbreaks in London by historical sources

D. J. D. Earn/J. Ma/H. Poinar u. a., Acceleration of plague outbreaks in the second pandemic. Proc .Nat. Acad. Science USA (PNAS) 2020. – doi:10.1073/pnas.2004904117

 

Abstract

Historical records reveal the temporal patterns of a sequence of plague epidemics in London, United Kingdom, from the 14th to 17th centuries. Analysis of these records shows that later epidemics spread significantly faster (“accelerated”). Between the Black Death of 1348 and the later epidemics that culminated with the Great Plague of 1665, we estimate that the epidemic growth rate increased fourfold. Currently available data do not provide enough information to infer the mode of plague transmission in any given epidemic; nevertheless, order-of-magnitude estimates of epidemic parameters suggest that the observed slow growth rates in the 14th century are inconsistent with direct (pneumonic) transmission. We discuss the potential roles of demographic and ecological factors, such as climate change or human or rat population density, in driving the observed acceleration.

 

Comment

The database of this article comes from historical records – the London Bills of Mortality, Parish registers, and wills and testaments. The last ones are the only reliable source for the 14th c. which allows a statistical approach. It seems remarkable to me, that no historian was a member of the team of authors, but the data used come  from the commercial company ancestry Corporate. Data series as the ones used in the PNAS articles are extremely significant, but digital publications of this kind of data are still insufficient.

 

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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