Ptolemaios Paxinos – zooarchaeologist

Polemaios-Dimitrios Paxinos (Institut für Paläoanatomie und Geschichte der Tiermedizin, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany).

Doctoral candidate of the Graduate Program of the ArchaeoBioCenter at the Ludwigs-Maximilian-Universität. Dissertation Topic: „Die Archäozoologie der Pest. Die Auswirkungen des Schwarzen Todes (1347-1350) auf Viehhaltung, Wirtschaft und Handel in Deutschland“ (The zooarchaeology of the plague: the impact of the Black Death (1347–1350) on animal husbandry, economy and trade in Germany).

The 14th c.  is from a zooarchaeological point view an exciting period since it is not known how the Black Death (as well as the other crises) affected domestic livestock. In order to understand its impact one must also bear in mind that the Black Death appeared after other crises already trembled several regions of the medieval Europe. Crises like the Great Famine or Bovine Pestilence affected dramatically the European population in many ways. Nevertheless, it seems that the Black Death has a special status within all the late medieval crises since it exacerbated and accelerated the already occurring changes, being some sort of catalyst.

In Germany the historic studies on the socio-economic consequences of the Black Death didn’t actually gain popularity till the 1980s. Hitherto, the German scholars published many studies on the Black Death, some of them being more compilations of the infected localities and relevant written sources, whereas others focus on the research of a certain region. Although those studies are important and some of the early works from the 19th c. are still the base for further research, they are dealing only marginally with economic and social impacts, which could be determined from a zooarchaeological point of view.

Since the Black Death was a pan-European phenomenon, multi-regional studies must be possible. In order to do that, a convenient database must be available. As for Germany, such a database doesn’t exist. Therefore it is necessary to create one which contains suitable zooarchaeological data. But one must pay caution because studies on a large scale have many difficulties; for example: a) the different state of research in different parts of Europe; b) the different context of findings (e.g. cloister, castle, village, town), which has an impact on the taphonomic interpretation; c) the excavation methods which differ from site to site; and d) the different standards of the published zooarchaeological papers. On top of that there is also the problem of dating and clear stratification.

To solve those problems a series of criteria which consider archaeological as well as zooarchaeological parameters must be chosen. Essential for the study is undoubtedly the dating of the sites coming into question. The most qualified are the sites which cover at least 50 or 100 years before as well as after 1350, i.e. they cover steadily the period 1250/1300–1400/1450.  Other criteria can be for example:

a) A suitable NISP (Number of Identified SPecimens) since an insufficient number of bones (e.g. less than 200) could disrupt the statistical evaluations.

b) In every study the respectively bone measurements bones must have been published, otherwise possible changes on the size of the domestic livestock (dicrease/increase) cannot be traced.

The idea behind this study is to detect any trends, be it a change of the animal size or a change of the proportion of species, among others. Such trends could point at modifications of living standards, terms-of-trade and agricultural practices. So far it seems that the response to the impact differed from region to region in Germany, hence detailed regional analyses are advisable.


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