From The Guardian news section:
Experts studying remains of victims buried in 14th century say bubonic plague was not an indiscriminate killer
Mon 20 Nov 2023 19.01 EST
When the Black Death hit London in autumn 1348, it caused a wave of devastation, with more than half the city’s population thought to have been killed. But a study has now found women with Black African ancestry could have had a greater risk of death than others.
Research has previously demonstrated that, far from being a homogeneous white society, medieval England—and its capital—had considerable diversity. As well as residents hailing from the far reaches of Europe, documentary and archaeological evidence has revealed people of Black African ancestry and dual heritage lived in London.
Now experts studying the remains of plague victims buried in the city say the disease hit some groups harder than others.
The findings have parallels with the Covid pandemic where, early in the crisis, it emerged Black people were four times more likely to die than white people, mainly because they had a higher risk of infection. Such disparities in mortality decreased as the pandemic wore on.
“Medieval England was a diverse population and, like today, issues around people’s heritage [and] wealth have health outcomes,” said Dr Rebecca Redfern, a co-author of the research at the Museum of London.
Bubonic plague is caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria, with the outbreak that hit England in 1348 – later dubbed the Black Death—part of a devastating pandemic, known at the time as the Great Pestilence.
Writing in the journal Bioarchaeology International, Redfern and colleagues report how they analysed remains from 145 individuals buried at East Smithfield emergency plague cemetery, St Mary Graces and St Mary Spital in London. Of these, 49 died from plague and 96 died from other causes.
The team looked at five features of the skulls, such as the shape of the eye area, and by using a forensic databank covering modern and historical populations around the world, explored the individuals’ probable affinity with different populations. The approach, the researchers say, is an established forensic tool, and is not based on controversial methods involving cranial measurements.
No calipers were used!
The results reveal nine plague victims appeared to be of African heritage, while 40 seemed to have white European or Asian ancestry. Among the non-plague burials, the figures were eight and 88 respectively.
1348 was a century before the Portuguese rounded the western Sahara and reached Senegal by sea.
While the sample size is small, the team say the findings show a higher proportion of people thought to have Black African heritage in the plague burials compared to the non-plague burials.
Further analysis based on mathematical modelling suggests females thought to have Black African heritage had a greater risk of dying of plague compared with white individuals of similar ages.
While nothing specific is known about the individuals’ lives, the team say many women of colour would have worked in domestic service and experienced race and sex-based discrimination. As a result they would have faced significant hardships and greater risk of disability, which would have made them more vulnerable to disease.
At least in the 1991 movie Robin Hood with Kevin Costner, they put some effort into establishing how Morgan Freeman becomes Costner’s right hand: they meet in a prison in the Holy Land during the Crusades and then a bunch of other stuff happens. Plus, he’s Morgan Freeman.
Nowadays, however, nobody even bothers trying to explain how blacks would get many thousands of miles from sub-Saharan Africa before the Age of Exploration to London. They’re just there. Haven’t you watched any BBC dramas lately?