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Black women most likely to die in medieval plague, Museum of London says

image source, London Museum

image captions,

London in 1400 by Amédée Forestier, a French artist specializing in historical landscapes

Scholars at the Museum of London have found that black women of African descent were more likely to die from the medieval plague in London.

The study is the first archaeological discovery to show how racism affected a person’s risk of death during the period known as the Great Plague or Great Mortality.

The study was based on 145 individuals from three cemeteries.

The outbreak is believed to have claimed the lives of 35,000 Londoners.

Data on skeletal and dental changes in 145 individuals from East Smithfield, St Mary Graces and St Mary Spital emergency plague cemeteries formed the basis of the study.

This primary data was then examined by applying a forensic anthropology toolkit to estimate whether the bones likely came from a person of African origin.

It was found that a significantly higher proportion of people of color and black African descent were buried because of the plague than those who did not suffer from the plague.

The report said: “There was a significantly higher estimated proportion of people of African origin in plague burials than in non-plague burials (18.4% vs. 3%).

“For the women-only sample, individuals from the estimated African population had a significantly higher estimated risk of dying from the plague than those with an estimated white European relationship. calculated. There were no significant associations for any other comparison.”

The likelihood of dying from the Great Plague was highest among those who faced significant hardship, including the famine that hit England during this time.

The study concluded that higher mortality rates among people of black and African descent were a result of the “devastating impact” of “pre-modern structural racism” in the medieval world neck.

What was the medieval plague?

Now commonly known as the Black Death, the outbreak of 1348-1350 was a deadly infectious disease that swept through Asia and Europe, killing millions.

Modern scientific research has identified this as a plague pandemic, but in the mid-1300s, people did not know what the disease was or how to stop it.

It reached London in the fall of 1348 and lasted until the spring of 1350.

More than half of London’s population died. Emergency cemeteries must be established to bury them.

The disease is transmitted by flea-infested rats and is also transmitted by small droplets, such as people coughing on each other.

Symptoms include fever, fatigue, vomiting and lymphadenopathy (large swelling).

image source, beautiful images

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A demolition worker with a baby’s coffin, at the site discovered in a churchyard in the City of London where victims of the plague were buried in 1348

Social and religious divisions based on origin, skin color and appearance were present in both medieval England and Europe.

The newspaper said that between 1336 and 1584 “nearly 18,000 ‘foreigners’ came to London from India, Greece, Iceland and mainland Europe”.

Although no population figures for black women in London are recorded, the newspaper added that during this period, wealthy and trading migrants frequently stayed in London, accompanied by entire households. family, often with servants who were freemen or slaves of sub-Saharan and northern origin. Africa or Eastern Europe.

Biological anthropologist from the University of Colorado, Professor Sharon DeWitte, said: “This study not only adds to our knowledge of the sociobiological factors that influence mortality risk deaths during the medieval plagues, but also shows a deep history of shaping social marginalization.” human health and vulnerability to disease.”

Associate Professor of Anthropology at Michigan State University, Dr Joseph Hefner, said: “This research delves into previous thinking about population diversity in medieval England based on primary sources.

“Combining bioarchaeological theory and methodology with forensic anthropological methods allows for a more nuanced analysis of this very important data.”

Dr Rebecca Redfern, from the Museum of London, said: “We have no official sources from people of colored and black African descent during the Great Plague of the 14th century, so the research archeology is essential to understand more about their lives and livelihoods.” experiences.

“Like the recent Covid-19 pandemic, the economic and social environment plays an important role in human health and this is most likely why we see more people of color and ethnic backgrounds Black Africans were buried in epidemic graves.”


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