|Yersinia pestis, Direct Fluorescent Antibody Stain (DFA), |
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
Public Health Image Library
[PHIL], identification number #1918 [public domain]).
As I am not familiar with genetics I do not dare to give any comment on this argumentation itself. However as has been stated before (see Michelle Ziegler at Contagions) the article is lacking a historical perspective - and as a medieval archaeologist there are several points I want to highlight:
It has been suggested, that the weakened condition of the human population, still suffering from the bad weather conditions and crop failures in the early 14th century was more prone to the plague. However, there may be an alternative explanation for the outbreak of the Black Death in the context of the late medieval crisis. New studies on the chain of infection of the plague assume a direct infection from rodents to humans. According to these studies the epidemiological chain of Y. pestis has to be completed by introducing soil as a kind of a reservoir (Drancourt et al. 2006, pp. 234f.). There should have been a high risk of human infection when the ecology of rodents has been disturbed.
A historical perspective
|The spread of the Black Death 1347-53|
(Andrei nacu, Wikimedia commons)
Much more detailed maps are needed, that show the break-out of the plague distinguishing between the regional and social environments, dealing very cautious by using the evidence of anti-Jewish pogroms as an indication for the plague. This kind of maps should be compared especially with the evidence of the 1342 St. Mary Magdalene's flood. Was there an anthropogenic factor in the early 14th century weather extremes and the distribution of the plague?
What were the effects of the 1342 flood on the landscape? Do current evidences pass a critical evaluation? How was rodents' ecology affected by the St. Mary Magdalene's flood?
If we want to verify this scenario, we also need a comparative approach looking for analogies. We need to ask whether there is a correlation between changes of the rural landscape, weather events, rodent's ecology and diseases to be observed in other historical situations. However, dealing with this hypothesis we need to take into account, that there may be other, historical i.e. factors, specific in time, space and cultural tradition. Urban archaeology gives us some indication that some towns suffered already in the early 14th century and that there may have been "social fallow" within the towns which also could have some effects on the population of rats and rodents. And we need to take into account the cultural behaviour of people.
Mutation of Yersinia pestis
In the Islamic world the Black Death was also present but it was less this catastrophic event. Was this just due to another cultural recognition of the disease? Hygiene but also the awareness, that antique historical sources, preserved in Arabic libraries, show that there have been similar diseases before, probably just caused a different reception of the Black Death. Or was the Black Death less virulent in the Eastern Mediterranean and Africa? What is the relation between the Aschheim and the London virus from a genetic point of view?
When Naphy & Spicer neglected that the correct diagnosis of the plague has any importance for cultural history they were surely wrong. The chain of infection highly depends from ecological and cultural preconditions - and the genetic determination of variants of Y.pestis influences the historical interpretation.
- Kirsten I. Bos/ Verena J. Schuenemann / G. Brian Golding / Hernán A. Burbano / Nicholas Waglechner / Brian K. Coombes / Joseph B. McPhee / Sharon N. DeWitte / Matthias Meyer / Sarah Schmedes / James Wood / David J. D. Earn / D. Ann Herring / Peter Bauer / Hendrik N. Poinar / Johannes Krause: A draft genome of Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death. Nature (2011) (doi:10.1038/nature10549)
- Ingrid Wiechmann / Gisela Grupe: Detection of Yersinia pestis DNA in two early medieval skeletal finds from Aschheim (Upper Bavaria, 6th century A.D.). American Journal of Physical Anthropology 126 (1), 2005, 48–55 (doi: 10.1002/ajpa.10276).
- D. Antoine, The Archaeology of ‘‘Plague’’. Medical History Suppl. 27, 2008, 101–114.
- H.-R. Bork (Hrsg.), Landschaften der Erde unter dem Einfluss des Menschen (Darmstadt 2006).
- A. Cunningham, Disease: Crisis or Transformation? In: T. Dahlerup/P. Ingesman (eds.), New approaches to the history of late medieval and early modern Europe. Selected proceedings of two international conferences at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters in Copenhagen 1997 and 1999. Historisk-filosofiske meddelelser 104 (Copenhagen 2009) 365–396.
- M. Drancourt/D. Raoult, Molecular insights into the history of plague. Microbes Infect. 4, 1, 2002, 105–109.
- M. Drancourt/L. Houhamdi/D. Raoult, Yersinia pestis as a telluric, human ectoparasite-borne organism. The Lancet Infectious Deseases 6, 4, 2006, 234–241.
- I. Grainger/ D. Hawkins/ L. Cowal, The Black Death Cemetery, East Smithfield, London. Museum of London Archaeology (London 1986) - ISBN-10:1-901992-82-9
- W. Naphy/ A. Spicer, Der Schwarze Tod. Die Pest in Europa (Essen 2009). - engl.: The Black Death. A history of plagues 1345 - 1730 (Stroud 2000).
- R. Schreg, Die Krisen des Späten Mittelalters. - Perspektiven, Potentiale, Probleme archäologischer Krisenforschung. In: F. Daim/ D. Gronenborn/ R. Schreg (eds.), Strategien zum Überleben. Tagungen des RGZM (Mainz 2011) 197-213 (online bei academia.edu).
Schreg, Rainer. Yersinia pestis - the missing ecological and historical dimension. Archaeologik. 2012-05-21. URL:http://archaeologik.blogspot.de/2011/11/yersinia-pestis-missing-ecological-and.html. Accessed: 2012-05-21. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/67pVeOdLQ)