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Stature and frailty during the Black Death: the effect of stature on risks of epidemic mortality in London, A.D. 1348-1350

The excavation site at East Smithfield. Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary geneticist at McMaster, has identified the bacteria responsible for causing the 1348 Black Death. Photo reproduced courtesy of the Museum of LondonStature and frailty during the Black Death: the effect of stature on risks of epidemic mortality in London, A.D. 1348-1350

Sharon N. DeWitte & Gail Hughes-Morey

Journal of Archaeological Science: Volume 39, Issue 5, May 2012, Pages 1412–1419

Abstract

Recent research has shown that pre-existing health condition affected an individual ’ s risk of dying duringthe 14th-century Black Death. However, a previous study of the effect of adult stature on risk of mortality during the epidemic failed to find a relationship between the two; this result is perhaps surprising given the well-documented inverse association between stature and mortality in human populations. We suggest that the previous study used an analytical approach that was more complex than was necessaryfor an assessment of the effect of adult stature on risk of mortality. This study presents a reanalysis of data on adult stature and age-at-death during the Black Death in London, 1348- 1350 AD.

The results indicate that short stature increased risks of mortality during the medieval epidemic, consistent withprevious work that revealed a negative effect of poor health on risk of mortality during the Black Death. However, the results from a normal, non-epidemic mortality comparison sample do not show an association between stature and risks of mortality among adults under conditions of normal mortality. Fisher ’ s exact tests, used to determine whether individuals who were growing during the Great Famineof 1315 e 1322 were more likely to be of short stature than those who did not endure the famine, revealedno differences between the two groups, suggesting that the famine was not a source of variation instature among those who died during the Black Death.

Click here to read this article from the Journal of Archaeological Science

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