Category Archives: Researchers

Colleagues interested in interdisciplinary approaches to the 14th c. crises are invited to present their personal research and their interests in the blog. We will flag these contributions as “researchers” in the field.

Michelle Ziegler — Biology and Public Health

I am an independent researcher interested in the natural history of Yersinia pestis. My training is in biology (MS) and biosecurity and disaster preparedness (MS). I’m interested in microbes from basic microbiology to public health and crisis management, and everything in between. My current focus is on keeping up with plague genomics and learning more about landscape epidemiology. I blog about my research at Contagions and you can find me on twitter @MZiegler3.

Prof. Jan Esper

The 14th century has been identified as a period of global reorganization of climate. Links between major climate changes and widespread disease as well as cultural changes have been proposed. I am interested in the analysis of these climate shifts as well as the association with societal changes and impact.

Geographisches Institut, Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz

Gary King – Environmental Archaeologist

I am a Junior Research Fellow at Durham University, UK. My research focuses on the relationship between culture and environment, where I integrate the methods and media of environmental archaeology and archaeological sciences. I am particularly interested in the information that may be gleaned through the study of archaeologically recovered insect, parasite and microbial evidence using proteomics, genetics and comparative morphology. My current and past research has been grounded in the use of biological remains, alongside ethnographic, documentary and material cultural data, to explore topics such as: (1) the colonisation and the creation of new landscapes, followed by their subsequent commodification; and (2) the social and environmental mechanisms involved in the emergence, evolution and transmission of human diseases. Along these lines, I am currently investigating the pathoecology of the Black Death as well as other epidemics.

Julia Gamble – Bioarchaeologist

I am a doctoral candidate based at the University of Manitoba, Canada.

I am currently undertaking the final stages of my doctoral research investigating patterns of health in two Danish cemetery populations dated from the mid-14th to the mid-16th centuries. This project has a number of facets. It involves a complete skeletal analysis of a sample of 167 individuals from these populations to identify age, sex, and other health dimensions (ex, stature and pathology). Through this, I am interested in changes in health across the period, particularly at the point bordering the mid-14th century. I am also considering the relationship between the two populations, one being rural and one being urban. Finally, I am conducting histological analysis of teeth from these individuals in order to on one level gain insight into the patterns of stress during development over time and on another level to consider the relationship between childhood stress and adult health.

My approach is bioarchaeological in nature – I am interested in looking at human health through the study of skeletal remains, but in the context of the socioeconomic and environmental context of the mid-14th century crises.

Richard Thomas – zooarchaeologist

My interests in the impact of the Black Death and the 14th-century crises on animal husbandry, diet, and human-animal relations in general, stemmed from my doctoral research (completed in 2002). This research involved the analysis of a large assemblage of animal bones from a castle site located in central England (Dudley Castle), with material dating from the 11th to the mid-18th century. This analysis revealed some major changes in animal exploitation, most especially in the 14th century. Firstly it was apparent that a statistically-significant increase in the size of domestic livestock (cattle, sheep, pig, chicken) occurred in the later 14th century. Other notable changes in this period included increased consumption of wild birds, and altered hunting strategies as the aristocracy sought to maintain social boundaries in the face of social climbers. I have argued that each of these phenomeon reflects socio-economic and environmental consequences of the Black Death (and prior crises of the 14th century). These arguments are laid out in the following publications:

Thomas, R. 2005. Animals, Economy and Status: The Integration of Zooarchaeological and Historical Evidence in the Study of Dudley Castle, West Midlands (c.1100-1750). British Archaeological Reports British Series 392. Archaeopress,Oxford.

Thomas, R. 2005c. Zooarchaeology, improvement and the British Agricultural Revolution. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 9 (2): 71-88.

Thomas, R. 2006. Of books and bones: the integration of historical and zooarchaeological evidence in the study of medieval animal husbandry, pp. 17-26, in Maltby, M. (ed.), Integrating Zooarchaeology. Oxbow,Oxford.

Thomas, R. 2007. Maintaining social boundaries through the consumption of food in medieval England, pp. 130-151, in Twiss, K. (ed.), The Archaeology of Food and Identity. Center for Archaeological Investigations Occasional Publication No. 34,Carbondale.

Thomas, R. 2007. Chasing the ideal? Ritualism, pragmatism and the later medieval hunt, pp. 125-148, in Pluskowski, A. (ed.), Breaking and Shaping Beastly Bodies: Animals as Material Culture in the Middle Ages. Oxbow, Oxford.

More recently, I have begun to further develop some of these ideas. Analysis of pathology in the lower limb bones of cattle, has demonstrated that the cattle of the later 14th-century were being worked much harder than they were in the late-13th-early-14th century and in later periods. Perhaps this was a consequence of the increased demand on cattle for traction following the losses of the cattle panzootic, which resulted in a loss of 62% of cattle in manors in England (Slavin, P., in press. The great bovine pestilence and its economic and environmental consequences in England and Wales, 1310-50, Economic History Review):

Thomas, R. 2008b. Diachronic trends in lower limb pathologies in later medieval and post-medieval cattle from Britain, pp. 187-201, in Grupe, G., McGlynn, G. and Peters, J. (eds.), Limping Together Through the Ages: Joint Afflictions and Bone Infections. Documenta Archaeobiologiae 6: 187-201.

Stable isotope analysis of large samples of cattle and pig bones, is also beginning to support the view that animal diet and management was altered in the aftermath of the Black Death:

Fisher, A. and Thomas, R. in press. Isotopic and zooarchaeological investigation of later medieval and post-medieval cattle husbandry at Dudley Castle, West Midlands. Environmental Archaeology 17 (2)

Hamilton, J. and Thomas, R. in press. Pannage, pulses and pigs: isotopic and zooarchaeological evidence for changing pig management practices in 14th-century England. Journal of Medieval Archaeology 56: 235-260.

Such studies also question the reliability of assuming that stable isotope values in animals are unchanging. This is a critically important consderation for making interepretative sense of isotope values in human skeletal remains.

Most recently I have been involved in a City of London Archaeological Trust funded project which has revealed further evidence for increases in livestock size in the 14th century. When the Dudley Castle data were first published, there were no comparatively early medieval sites in England at which size change in livestock had occurred; the majority of other sites had shown increases one or two centuries later. This  project, undertaken by myself in collaboration with Dr. Matilda Holmes (University of Leicester), and Dr. Jim Morris (Museum of London Archaeology/University of Central Lancashire), has involved a systematic temporal and spatial analysis of archived measurements of cattle, sheep, pig and domestic fowl bones from archaeological sites in London from sites dating 1200-1900. We are currently just writing up the results, but key findings include two phases of size increase in the 14th century, which may well be connected to the impact of the sheep and cattle plagues of the first quarter of the century and an altered agricultural and tenurial landscape in the wake of the Black Death.

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.

Ptolemaios Paxinos

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“

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