By Sharon N. DeWitte
Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol.37:12 (2010)
Abstract: This paper examines adult age-specific mortality patterns of one of the most devastating epidemics in recorded history, the Black Death of A.D. 1347-1351. The goal was to determine whether the epidemic affected all ages equally or if it targeted certain age groups. Analyses were done using a sample of 337 individuals excavated from the East Smithfield cemetery in London, which contains only individuals who died during the Black Death in London in 1349-1350. The age patterns from East Smithfield were compared to a sample of 207 individuals who died from non-epidemic causes of mortality. Ages were estimated using the method of transition analysis, and age-specific mortality was evaluated using a hazards model. The results indicate that the risk of mortality during the Black Death increased with adult age, and therefore that age had an effect on risk of death during the epidemic. The age patterns in the Black Death cemetery were similar to those from the non-epidemic mortality sample. The results from this study are consistent with previous findings suggesting that despite the devastating nature of the Black Death, the 14th-century disease had general patterns of selectivity that were similar to those associated with normal medieval mortality.