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New study sheds light on survivors of the Black Death
Date:5/8/2014

DeWitte determines biological sex, age at death and analyzes specific markers, including porous lesions, and teeth, to gauge each individual's general health. Her bioarchaeological research is providing a new dimension to the study of Black Death and provides the first look at the lives of women and children during this medieval time period.

"It's innovative because of the analytical approaches I take. I'm providing more nuanced reconstructions of life in the past than is possible with more traditional methods in my field," DeWitte says. "My Black Death research is rare because the samples that I use are exceedingly rare. There are only a handful of large cemetery samples that are clearly linked to the 14th century Black Death.

"And, most medieval historical records only tell about the experience of men. We have little information about the experiences of women and children and the poor in general during medieval plague epidemics, including the Black Death. My bioarchaeological data allows us to understand how the population in general fared during and after the epidemic."

DeWitte's analysis has revealed several important findings. Most notably that:

  • the 14th-century Black Death was not an indiscriminate killer, but instead targeted frail people of all ages;

  • survivors of the Black Death experienced improvements in health and longevity, with many people living to ages of 70 or 80 years, as compared to pre-Black Death populations;

  • improvements in survival post-Black Death didn't necessarily equate to good health over a lifespan, but revealed a hardiness to endure disease, including repeated bouts of plague; and

  • the Black Death, either directly or indirectly, very powerfully shaped mortality patterns for generations after the epidemic ended.

DeWitte says she was surprised by how much of a change she estimated between the pre- and post-Black Death periods.

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Contact: Peggy Binette
peggy@mailbox.sc.edu
803-777-7704
University of South Carolina
Source:Eurekalert  

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