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The Paleodemography of the Black Death 1347-1351
Doctor of Philosophy, The Pennsylvania State University, December (2006)
The Black Death of 1347-1351 has long been considered one of the most devastating epidemics in human history; it killed an estimated 30-50 percent of the European population and initiated profound social, economic, and demographic changes throughout the continent. Among other things, the Black Death has been credited with ending the medieval feudal system and exacerbating social conflict between the wealthy and poor. Because the Black Death had important consequences both culturally and demographically, it has fascinated researchers for decades, yet there are still important questions about the medieval epidemic that have remained unanswered. By comparing a Black Death cemetery to a pre-Black Death, normal mortality cemetery, this project seeks to determine how Black Death mortality was distributed by age and sex and whether the disease was selective with respect to frailty. This project incorporates a newly developed method of adult age-at-death estimation and a multistate model of morbidity and mortality. The results indicate that the Black Death differentially affected individuals with pre-existing health conditions. The Black Death, however, was not as strongly selective as was normal mortality. The epidemic was highly virulent and therefore killed otherwise healthy individuals who would have been at low risk of death under normal circumstances. However, the Black Death did not, as many have assumed, killed people indiscriminately.