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Fleas, rats and other stories: The palaeoecology of the Black Death

Fleas, rats and other stories: The palaeoecology of the Black Death

By Eva Panagiotakopulu

Paper given at the 2016 European Association of Archaeologists Conference in Vilnius, Lithuania

Abstract: Bubonic plague is a disease which involves various animal vectors and hosts and its ecology is both complex and of importance in terms of its spread and virulence. The origin of the Black Death is central to its better understanding and can throw light on the medieval pandemic and later epidemics. This paper discusses the ecology and biogeography of bubonic plague and looks into the natural history and palaeoecology relating to its vectors, primary and secondary, Xenospylla cheopis and other flea species and hosts, the e.g. Arvicanthis niloticus and Rattus rattus.

The possible origins of the disease and its connection with the first urban centres of Egypt and Mesopotamia are discussed taking into account climatic, environmental and archaeological evidence. The hypothesis of the spread of the Black Death via trade links with Asia and Europe, in relation to the relevant archaeological record are also explored.

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See more videos from the session Plague in Diachronic and Interdisciplinary Perspective

Top Image: A flea drawn by Buonanni Philippo in 1681

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