Erasing any lingering doubts about the agent of the Plague of Justinian, a group of German biological anthropologists have shown conclusively that Yersinia pestis caused an epidemic in a 6th century Bavarian cemetery at Aschheim. Harbeck et al (2013) provide a convincing refutation of previous theories about the etiologic agent of the Plague of Justinian. Returning to the same cemetery where plague was…
As the annual pilgrimage to Kalamazoo begins this week, I thought I would leave you with some entertainment on a much older pilgrimage while I’m gone.
A group of German biological anthropologists gave me a good 6th anniversary present for Heavenfield. There is now good confirmation that the Plague of Justinian was the Plague! I know that sounds a little anti-climatic but some have fought the diagnosis against the odds for years now. We still need more data from well dated cemeteries but some things are clear.
Plague was diagnosed in Bavaria beyond the Roman world where plague had never been documented. Two sites from Gaul have also produced plague protein results and well documented symptoms from Gaul and the Mediterranean suggests that it was wide-spread in the Late Antique world. I’ve written about the details of this newest discovery on Contagions.
The cemetery is well dated archaeologically to the 6th century and radiocarbon dates support that date. There were no disordered mass graves. So the graves all looked reasonably normal except there were a greater than normal number of multiple graves, but still well-ordered 2-5 person graves. I would take these graves to be household size. From what little I know of sixth century Bavaria this fits a diffuse settlement patterns without large urban areas. So far no historian of Germanic territories has written about this discovery to help put it in better context. A full write-up of this cemetery should be illuminating. The first paper on this cemetery reported that the grave contained some high status and trade goods.
Now that plague genetics seems to be getting sorted out, hopefully I’ll be able to spend more time on the first pandemic and related topics here on Heavenfield.