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Foto: Arkeologerna

Surviving the plague for better or worse

Caroline Arcini – The Archaeologists/Arkeologerna, Statens Historiska Museer

In the mid fourteenth century Europe was hit by the most devastating epidemic ever, the Black Death. Both rich and poor were affected and the population of Europe dropped by at least one third and perhaps by as much as two thirds. The cause of the disease has long been disputed but in recent years aDNA analyses have proved that it was the plague bacteria Yersinia pestis. In the interdisciplinary project “Environment, Society and the Black Death” we have studied the impact of the demographic disaster using palaeoecological, archaeological and osteological parameters. This presentation will be based on the osteological parameters and focus on the questions: Where are all the plague victims buried? How did the population decline affect the living conditions for following generations? Did the agricultural change from crop growing to animal husbandry after the plague result in increased consumption of meat and milk products for a majority of the population? We used stature to study living conditions before and after the disaster and stable isotope analysis to study possible changes in diet. In addition we used church books from the last plague in Sweden in 1710 to give some insight into how the plague may have spread from parish to parish and how the population recovered. Methods and main conclusions will be presented.