News / Science & Technology

Study: Black Death Lead to Longer, Healthier Lives Among Survivors

An llustration of the Black Death is seen in this image from the Toggenburg Bible (1411).
An llustration of the Black Death is seen in this image from the Toggenburg Bible (1411).

Related Articles

Liar! Liar! African Bird Uses Elaborate Ruse to Steal Food

Scientists say tricky Dronga birds are pathological liars that mimic alarm calls to warn other animals of approaching predator just to frighten them off and steal their food

Video Heat-Hardy Corals Could Help Save Dying Reefs

About 80 percent of Caribbean corals are dead, as are nearly 75 percent Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the largest on the planet

Blood of Young Mice Reverses Signs of Aging in Older Ones

Key rejuvenating protein also found in humans and could one day help people lead healthier lives
While the Black Death of the 14th century killed off about 30 percent of the population of Europe, the survivors and their descendants may have benefitted, according to new research.
In fact, survivors “lived significantly longer and were healthier than people who lived before the epidemic struck in 1347,” according to research by University of South Carolina anthropologist Sharon DeWitte.
Some of the survivors of the Black Death, which was caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, lived to be 70 and even 80 years-old, according to the research.
The improved health may have been passed all the way down people of European descent today.
“I think it is safe to say that descendants might be reaping the benefits of the Black Death in terms of immune competence or disease resistance - though this is a hypothesis that requires testing,” said DeWitte in an email to VOA. “What can be done is an examination of human genetic variation before and after the Black Death and in living people in an effort to find genetic variants that confer immune benefits and that increased in frequency after the Black Death.”
For the past decade, DeWitte has studied the skeletal remains of more than 1,000 men women and children who lived before, during and after the deadly outbreak from 1347 to 1351.
The skeletons all came from London cemeteries and are “exceedingly rare,” said DeWitte in a statement, adding that there are very few cemetery samples linked to the 14th century plague. It is estimated that the Black Death wiped out nearly half of London’s population. In total, the disease killed between 75 and 100 million Europeans.
DeWitte determined the sex and age at death of the remains, taking notice of “porous” lesions” and dental health, both indicative of overall health.
What she found was that the Black Death targeted the frail of all ages and that survivors experienced better overall health and longer lives post outbreak. However, surviving the Black Death did not mean a guarantee of health over a lifespan, but “revealed a hardiness to endure disease, including repeated bouts of plague.”
Finally, according to the research, the plague “either directly or indirectly, very powerfully shaped mortality patterns for generations after the epidemic ended.”
“Knowing how strongly diseases can actually shape human biology can give us tools to work with in the future to understand disease and how it might affect us,” DeWitte said in a statement, adding that the “Black Death was a single iteration of a disease that has affected humans since at least the 6th century Plague of Justinian” from 541 to 542 AD.
“Genetic analysis of 14th century Y. pestis has not revealed significant functional differences in the ancient and modern strains,” DeWitte says. “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.”
DeWitte’s findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs