Sharon N. DeWitte
Ethel-Jane Westfeldt Bunting Summer Scholar
The Dynamics of an Ancient Emerging Disease: Demographic and Health Consequences of Medieval Plague
This project is an investigation of the demographic and health effects of the fourteenth-century Black Death. Using data from medieval London cemeteries, Dr. DeWitte will examine whether the selective mortality of the Black Death—which targeted relatively frail people—combined with improvements in standards of living following the epidemic resulted in a population that was healthier, on average, than the pre-epidemic population of London. Comparisons across pre-Black Death (circa 1100–1300), Black Death (circa 1349–1350), and post-Black Death (circa 1350–1538) cemeteries will reveal whether people survived to older adult ages and were better able to resist dying despite exposure to physiological stress (e.g., poor nutrition and disease) following the epidemic, both of which would indicate increases in average health. Investigating the dynamics of diseases in the past is vital to understanding modern human biology and demography, given the power of diseases to shape human populations and drive human evolution.
Affiliation at time of award:
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina
Sponsored by Ethel-Jane Westfeldt Bunting Foundation