Monthly Archives: September 2012

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.

Invitation to the Black Death Network

Dear colleagues,

The blog “The Black Death Network. Interdiscplinary approaches to the 14th-century crises in Europe ” just started. This is an initiative arising from a session at the EAA European Association of Archaeologists)/  MERC (medieval Europe research Congress) meeting in Helsinki 2012.
If you are engaged in research connected to the 14th-century crises across Europe we would be very happy for you to join out network. Our aim is to connect students and experienced scholars from all disciplines, to exchange news and ideas and to discuss all aspects of the topic.

We will give all colleagues author rights to write and comment. Please write an email to schregATrgzm.de or some other member of the editorial team. However, we ask you for a introductory blogpost presenting your yourself and your interests in the topic. We sort these posts in a category “researchers” which will create an overview of all persons actively involved. You may post short information about your research, new publications, news on relevant conferences.

The blog is hosted at hypotheses.org/ openedition, a common platform for academic blogs organised by the German Historical Institute at Paris, the French National Library. They will provide a ISSN similar to a journal and will also take care for archiving of the blog. Blog-Posts are therefore a litte bit more official than in private blogs, and therefore can also be cited. We put the texts of the blog under a CC-licence (BY NC SA).

You can follow the blog by rss-feed or by joining the facebook-group “The Black Death Network”. https://www.facebook.com/groups/340262089399227/. New posts from the blog are connected with this fb-group by an rss-feed.

There is also a group The Black Death Network at zotero collecting bibliographical data of research publications as well as more popular articles.

Rainer Schreg
Richard Thomas
Kerstin Pasda
Cclare Downham

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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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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DNA finds of Yersinia pestis

Several studies have dealt with the idenficiation of aDNA of Yersinia pestis. There are several arguments for a mutation of Y. pestis shortly before the 1347-53 pandemic. Probably there were different variants of Y. pestis involved. In order to understand the historical ecology of the Black Death and the role of 14th-century land-use practices and climate changes it will be crucial to trace the development of Y. pestis .

To date Y. pestis has been extracted from human skeletal remains at the following locations:

 
Yersinia pestis – larger map
(additions are welcome)

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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The Black Death Network

The 14th century AD was a profoundly tumultuous period in European history. Climatic deterioration in the first quarter of the century triggered harvest failures and human famine in a population that had already exceeded the carrying capacity of agricultural production. Human famine was compounded by the widespread loss of cattle and sheep as epizootics spread across the continent. In many parts of Europe, continuous warfare and the consequential increased burden of taxation further stretched agricultural production to breaking point. In the middle of the century the Black Death swept through Europe killing 30–60% of the population. These calamitous events had profound social and economic repercussions that resonated far beyond the immediate aftermath of the population crash in the late 1340s and early 1350s.

Understanding of the 14th-century crises needs:

– a broad interdisciplinary approach, bringing together humanities and sciences;
– a comparative approach to enable the examination of different landscapes with their distinct historical and ecological background.

An ecological perspective on a local or regional scale may help to understand the specific causes and effects. It may help to overcome deterministic interpretations and to deal with the complexities of the 14th centuries crises and the human responses to them.

Some of the disciplines involved are:
– History
– Medieval archaeology
– Zooarchaeology
– Archaeobotany and palynology
– Physical anthropology
– DNA studies
– Stable isotopes
– Geoarchaeology
– Entomology
– Dendrology
– Meteorology

Understanding of the 14th-century crises needs:

a broad interdisciplinary approach, bringing together humanities and sciences;
a comparative approach to enable the examination of different landscapes with their distinct historical and ecological background.

An ecological perspective on a local or regional scale may help to understand the specific causes and effects. It may help to overcome deterministic interpretations and to deal with the complexities of the 14th centuries crises and the human responses to them.

Some of the disciplines involved are:

History

Currently our knowledge on the 14th-century crisis is mainly based on written evidence. Besides chronical reports of famines, plagues and weather extremes, there are also data on prices of grain for example, which may reflect not only local policy but also supraregional crop failure. To understand the crises we need detailed analysis of specific local case studies.
Historical and medieval studies are crucial to understand perceptions and explanations of the plague and other 14th c.’s hazards by contemporaries.

Medieval archaeology

Already for some decades medieval archaeologists have been interested in the phenomenon of abandoned settlements, which have been in many cases connected with the 14th-century crises. However, to understand the changes in settlement pattern we need to broaden our perspective by looking more closely at existing settlements as well as land use patterns.

Zooarchaeology

In England and Germany, zooarchaeological evidence (the study of animal bones from archaeological sites) is beginning to reveal that significant changes in dietary identities and agricultural production occurred during the 14th century and testify to changes in the patterns of land-holding, land use practices, and rising living standards. Analysis of animal bones can also identify the distribution of the black rat (Rattus rattus).

Archaeobotany and palynology

Whereas in some landscapes reforestation during the late medieval period is visible in palynological (pollen) data , in many cases such evidence is missing. Quite often, the interest of palynological studies has instead focussed on prehistoric periods or has not produced data with the chonrological precision to explore environmental and climatic change in the 14th century. Archaeobotany (the study of macrobotanical remains) also has the potential to explore the changing nature of diet and land practice, although this remains an under-explored avenue of enquiry.

Physical anthropology

The analysis of human skeletal remains has proven potential to shed light on morbidity and mortality rates in populations before and after the Black Death, through the analysis of stature, stress indicators, and disease. The context of deposition also provides indications of how survivors dealt with mass mortality events, and in some cases it is possible to extract and detect the bacterial pathogen through aDNA analysis.

DNA studies

Ancient and modern DNA studies enable the detection of causative pathogens, when found in human skeletal remains, but also make the evolutionary history of germs, such as Yersinia pestis possible to trace.

Stable isotopes

Analysis of stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen from human and animal remains make it possible to track the changing nature of human and animal diet before and after the Black Death. Some stable isotopes, such as oxygen, can be used to detect climatic change, while others (e.g. Strontium) have the potential to track the movement of people and livestock.

Geoarchaeology

The effects of heavy weather effects and land use practices can be detected through the analysis of soils and sediments. In many regions of western Central Europe geoarchaeology proved massive soil erosion during the 14th century. Probably especially the St. Mary Magdalene’s flood in July 1342 caused massive gullying.

Entomology

An analysis of preserved insect remains can help to detect micro-and macro-environmental changes. Furthermore it maybe possible to identify fleas, important for the spread of plague.

Dendrology

Analyzing tree rings allows detailed reconstructions of weather and climatic conditions. This is essential for the understanding of the 14th Century as a transition period from the Medieval Warm Period to the Little Ice Age.

Meteorology

Meteorological expertise is especially important for understanding the causes and impact of extreme weather events of the 14th Century demand. This raises the question to what extent, for example, changes in land use in the Middle Ages had an influence on the risk of thunderstorms and heavy rain.

Some of these disciplines have contributed important research, however, others are just beginning. Basically it is to relate the knowledge of the different subjects together.
The Black Death Network grew out of a session of the Conference of the European Association of Achaeologists (together with Medieval Europe Research Conference MERC) 2012 in Helsinki, Finland.

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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Islamic attidues to disasters in the Middle Ages: a comparison of earthquakes and plagues

A re-post from the Medievalists.net blog of a 2007 article in Medieval History Journal (10) by Anna Akasoy:

http://www.medievalists.net/2012/09/09/islamic-attitudes-to-disasters-in-the-middle-ages-a-comparison-of-earthquakes-and-plagues/

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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How great was the Great Famine of 1314-1322? Between ecology and institutions

Philip Slavin: How Great Was the Great Famine of 1314-22: Between Ecology and Institutions.  Yale Economic History Workshop, October 19, (2009)

Abstract

There can be little doubt that the Great European Famine of 1314-22 was a single most severe food crisis in the late Middle Ages. The almost biblical flooding of 1314-17 led to a harsh subsistence crisis that deeply transformed European population, society, economy and ecology. Historians have long been aware of this in relation to the crop failures that occurred in these years, but their studies have tended to stand outside the analytical, and certainly statistical, frameworks that historians have created for assessing the impact of the catastrophe. The present working paper proposes the preliminary re-assessment of three important aspects of the Great Famine, from an English and Welsh perspective. The reason for concentrating on England and Wales is the fact that this region is abundant in a large corpus of statistical data, which either does not survive or does not exist for other regions in Northern Europe.

http://www.econ.yale.edu/seminars/echist/eh09/slavin-091026.pdf

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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Sickness, Hunger, War, and Religion

As open access available:
“Sickness, Hunger, War, and Religion: Multidisciplinary Perspectives.”
Rachel Carson Center Perspectives 2012, Issue 3
Edited by Michaela Harbeck, Kristin von Heyking, and Heiner Schwarzberg

A peste, fame et bello libera nos, Domine!” Disease, hunger, war, and religion have shaped human existence over many centuries. This volume presents exciting syntheses between research in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, and history; moving from prehistory to the medieval period, six chapters look at humanity’s struggles with subsistence, religious belief, ill-health, death, and warfare in a variety of global landscapes, and show how, by sharing expertise and combining methodological approaches, we can advance our understanding of our common past.


http://www.carsoncenter.uni-muenchen.de/publications/perspectives_mainpage/2012_perspectives/index.html

available as  pdf (pdf, 7.5 MB) (or printer-friendly version, pdf, 6.6 MB)

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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Human skeletal health before and after the Black Death

Ongoing analysis of the human skeletal remains from London by Sharon DeWitte reveals changes in health and lifespan in the wake of the Black Death, and adds to the growing body of bioarchaeological evidence that life for survivors was better.

http://archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/decoding-black-death.html

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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Yersinia pestis – the missing ecological and historical dimension

Reposted from http://archaeologik.blogspot.de/2011/11/yersinia-pestis-missing-ecological-and.html

Yersinia pestis, Direct Fluorescent Antibody Stain (DFA),
200x Magnification
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s
Public Health Image Library [PHIL],
identification number #1918 [public domain]).
In a recent article a group of German and Canadian researchers presented the genome of Yersinia pestis as it has been extracted from burials of the London East Smithfield burial ground dated to 1348/49 (Bos et al. 2011). This site has been excavated by the Museum of London after it has been localised in 1986 (Grainger et al. 2008).
The article aims at the reconstruction of the ancient genome of Yersinia pestis, as this promises implications for the understanding of infectious diseases, as “genomic data from ancient microbes may help to elucidate mechanisms of pathogen evolution and adaptation for emerging and re-emerging infections”.
The authors conclude:
1.) “Genetic architecture and phylogenetic analysis indicate that the ancient organism is ancestral to most extant strains and sits very close to the ancestral node of all Y. pestis commonly associated with human infection. Temporal estimates suggest that the Black Death of 1347–1351 was the main historical event responsible for the introduction and widespread dissemination of the ancestor to all currently circulating Y. pestis strains pathogenic to humans.” The classic Black Death was quite different from previous epidemics. The authors refer to the Justinian plague “popularly assumed to have resulted from the same pathogen: our temporal estimates imply that the pandemic was either caused by a Y. pestis variant that is distinct from all currently circulating strains commonly associated with human infections, or it was another disease altogether.”
2.) “Comparisons against modern genomes reveal no unique derived positions in the medieval organism, indicating that the perceived increased virulence of the disease during the Black Death may not have been due to bacterial phenotype. These findings support the notion that factors other than microbial genetics, such as environment, vector dynamics and host susceptibility, should be at the forefront of epidemiological discussions regarding emerging Y. pestis infections.”

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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Useful cattle murrain papers

These are two very useful papers that deal with the impact of the early 14th century cattle plagues on English manors:

Newfield, T. 2009. A cattle panzootic in early fourteenth-century Europe. Agricultural History Review 57, 155-190.

Slavin, P. in press. The great bovine pestilence and its economic and environmental consequences in England and Wales, 1318-1350. Economic History Review DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2011.00625.x

 

Rainer Schreg

archaeologist professor in medieval and postmedieval archaeology at Bamberg university

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