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Surprising New Findings About Survivors of the Black Plague


While one might think that surviving a plague like the black death, which severely affected Europeans during medieval times would weaken one's system, it would appear that those who made it through actually fared quite well, even living to well into their 70s and 80s.

The study from the University of South Carolina found that those who survived the bacterial disease that killed one-third of the European population lived longer and healthier lives than those who lived before the epidemic.

"Genetic analysis of 14th century [bacteria, Yersinia pestis,] has not revealed significant functional differences in the ancient and modern strains," anthropologist Sharon DeWitte said of the disease. "This suggests that we need to consider other factors such as the characteristics of humans in order to understand changes in the disease over time."

Victims of the Bubonic Plague in a mass grave. (Image source: CDC via Wikimedia) Victims of the bubonic Plague in a mass grave. (Image source: CDC via Wikimedia)

DeWitte analyzed the skeletons of 1,000 men, women and children who lived before, during and after the bubonic plague. Factors she recorded from the bones included sex, age, porous lesions and teeth, which she used to measure general health. 

"The results indicate that there are significant differences in survival and mortality risk, but not birth rates, between the two time periods, which suggest improvements in health following the Black Death, despite repeated outbreaks of plague in the centuries after the Black Death," the study's abstract, published in the journal PLOS One, said.

DeWitte speculated that those who survived the Black Death had more of a hardiness to make it through the disease and others afterward. In other words, if you were strong enough to survive this plague, you were most likely strong enough to survive other ailments and live to an older age as well.

"The Black Death was just the first outbreak of medieval plague, so the post-Black Death population suffered major threats to health in part from repeated outbreaks of plague," DeWitte said. "Despite this, I found substantial improvements in demographics and thus health following the Black Death."


Front page image via Wikimedia. 

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