Thursday, September 06, 2012

Anthropologist compares medieval lives, pre- and post-Black Death

Each time Sharon DeWitte takes a 3-foot by 1-foot archival box off the shelf at the Museum of London she hopes it will be heavy. “Heavy means you know you have a relatively complete skeleton,” said DeWitte, an anthropologist at the University of South Carolina who has spent summers examining hundreds of Medieval skeletons, each time shedding new light on the dark subject of the Black Death. 

Since 2003, DeWitte has been studying the medieval mass killer that wiped out 30 percent of Europeans and nearly half of Londoners from 1347–1351. She is among a small group of scientists devoted to decoding the ancient plague and the person researchers turn to for providing evidence from skeletal remains. Her findings may provide clues about the effects of disease on human evolution.

 “It can tell us something about the nature of human variation today and whether there is an artifact of diseases we have faced in the past. Knowing how strongly these 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,” she said.

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