The Late Medieval Agrarian Crisis and Black Death plague epidemic in medieval Denmark: apaleopathological and paleodietary perspective
Yoder, Cassady J.
PhD Thesis, Texas A&M University, August (2006)
The medieval period of Denmark (11th-16th centuries) witnessed two of the worst demographic, health, and dietary catastrophes in history: the Late Medieval Agrarian Crisis (LMAC) and the Black Death plague epidemic. Historians have argued that these events resulted in a change in subsistence from a cereal grain to a more pastorallyfocused diet, and that the population decimation resulted in improved living conditions. This dissertation bioarchaeologically examines the impact of these historically described events on the diet and health of the population from Jutland, Denmark. I examine the stable isotopic ratios of carbon and nitrogen, dental caries, cribra orbitalia, porotic hyperostosis, periosteal reactions, and femur length to examine the samples for dietary and health differences due to sex, time period, site and social status. The results suggest that there are few chronological differences in diet or health in these samples. There are greater disparities among the sites, as peasants from the rural site had a more terrestrially-based diet and poorer health than the urban sites. While there is little difference in diet by sex, there is a disparity in health between the sexes. However, the direction of difference varies by site, suggesting that the relative treatment of the sexes was not universal in Denmark. While the results indicate there is little difference in health by status, there are dietary differences, as elites had a more marinebased diet than peasants. This research indicates the importance of bioarchaeological analysis in the interpretation of historical events. The recording of history is dependent on the viewpoint of the recorder and may not accurately reflect the importance of events on the the population itself. Bioarchaeological techniques examine skeletal material from the individuals in question and may provide a better understanding of the consequences of historic events on the population, such as the effects of the LMAC and Black Death on the population of Denmark. This research reveals that, contrary to historical expectation, these events did not have a measurable impact on Danish diet or health. Thus, the use of historical documentation and bioarchaeological analyses provides a richer understanding of these historical events.