Archaeologists at the Museum of London have made a groundbreaking discovery regarding the medieval plague. Through their research, it has been found that black women of African descent faced a higher risk of mortality during the Great Pestilence. This study is the first to shed light on how racism played a significant role in determining an individual’s chances of survival during this devastating period.
The research focused on 145 individuals buried in three different cemeteries: East Smithfield emergency plague cemetery, St Mary Graces, and St Mary Spital. These burial sites provided valuable insights into the impact of the Great Pestilence on different communities living in London at the time. It is estimated that the outbreak claimed the lives of approximately 35,000 Londoners.
What exactly was the medieval plague? Commonly known as the Black Death, it was a highly contagious disease that swept across Asia and Europe from 1348 to 1350, resulting in the death of millions of people. During this time, the population of London was devastated, with over half of its residents succumbing to the plague. Emergency cemeteries had to be hastily established to accommodate the vast number of casualties.
The study found that the likelihood of dying from the Great Pestilence was highest among those who were already experiencing significant hardships, including exposure to famines that plagued England. Social and religious divisions based on origins, skin color, and appearance were prevalent in medieval England and Europe. These divisions contributed to what the researchers describe as “premodern structural racism,” which had devastating effects on marginalized communities during the time of the plague.
Dr. Rebecca Redfern from the Museum of London stated the importance of archaeological research in understanding the lives and experiences of people of color and those of Black African descent during the 14th century. Without primary written sources from these individuals, archaeology becomes vital in uncovering their stories. She further emphasized that social and economic conditions played a significant role in determining one’s health, which explains why more individuals from these marginalized groups were found in plague burials.
The findings of this study provide a deeper understanding of the historical impacts of racism and inequality on public health outcomes. By acknowledging and learning from such historical events, we can work towards building a more inclusive and equitable society.
1. What is the medieval plague?
The medieval plague, often referred to as the Black Death, was a deadly infectious disease that swept across Asia and Europe from 1348 to 1350, resulting in the death of millions of people. It arrived in London in 1348 and lasted until 1350, decimating over half of the city’s population.
2. How did racism influence mortality during the medieval plague?
Research conducted by the Museum of London has revealed that black women of African descent faced a higher risk of death during the Great Pestilence. This study is the first to explore the impact of racism on mortality rates during the medieval plague, highlighting the devastating effects of “premodern structural racism” on marginalized communities.
3. What were the social and religious divisions during medieval England and Europe?
During the medieval period, social and religious divisions based on origins, skin color, and appearance were prevalent in England and Europe. These divisions contributed to systemic racism and inequality, which intensified during times of crisis, such as the outbreak of the plague.
4. How did the socioeconomic environment affect mortality rates during the medieval plague?
The research conducted by the Museum of London suggests that the socioeconomic environment played a significant role in determining one’s health during the medieval plague. Individuals who already faced hardships, such as exposure to famines, were more likely to succumb to the disease. This further reinforces the association between socioeconomic conditions and mortality rates.
Museum of London – https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/
BBC News – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-12395357