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'Eye-watering' scale of Black Death's impact on England revealed

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Author Topic: 'Eye-watering' scale of Black Death's impact on England revealed  (Read 182 times)
Watcher of the Skies
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« on: May 26, 2016, 05:13:37 pm »

 In Binham, north Norfolk, there was a 71% fall in the amount of pottery found, indicating a catastrophic population collapse. Photograph: University of Lincoln

Her analysis bears out the terrified contemporary accounts of people who lived through the epidemic and saw their world collapse around them. The impact on individual communities was catastrophic. At Cottenham in Cambridgeshire, where at least 33 out of 58 tenants died, “ruinous” houses were still being reported two centuries later.

Some 20th century historians had begun to question the scale of the epidemic, partly because relatively few plague pit burials have been found, but Lewis’s research bears out the most dire medieval accounts: overall her analysis across East Anglia illustrates an average decline of 44.7% in 90% of the settlements excavated. The pattern was uneven: Norfolk showed a 65% decline - up to 85% at Gaywood and Paston - far worse than Essex or Suffolk. Before the Black Death, Great Shelford in Cambridgeshire was a sprawling medieval village, stretching more than a kilometre along a high street and two greens: afterwards it was reduced to a single 200m row of houses beside the church.

The excavation of some 2,000 one square metre pits was carried out under archaeological supervision by volunteer members of the public, some of whom were literally digging in their back gardens. The technique could easily be applied to a further study across other English regions, and indeed across Europe, Lewis suggests.

Her paper ends on a sombre note. “This disease is still endemic in parts of today’s world, and could once again become a major killer, should resistance to the antibiotics now used to treat it spread amongst tomorrow’s bacteriological descendants of the fourteenth-century Yersinia pestis. We have been warned.”

• This article was amended on 26 May 2016. An earlier version said Binham was in Norwich.
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