Last Week’s Report

 Eric Houlder                           The Black Death                                      6.3.19 Forum  2000  enjoyed a  gruesome morning when Eric Houlder, archaeologist and forensic photographer presented a study of  Bubonic Plague as  recorded from the days of Justinian to Victoria.  The reliability of the records varied:  excavated plague pits yielded evidence of the numbers dying and the ability of the communities to cope with burials;  DNA of rats and fleas as well as evidence of periods of starvation from bones. Very convincing.   Evidence from paintings and other illustrations was less persuasive though  giving  graphic testimony to the horrors of plague scenes.  Some of the remedies  seem closer to  magic than medicine.  Eric’s  analysis of the causes of the various outbreaks and the reason for the high mortality were interesting and struck a note for modern minds conscious of Ebola,  to worry about.  Preceding  periods of bad weather followed by  poor harvests and famine  led to  lowered resistance.  The carriers,  the Black Rat and its fleas, brought the bacillus from Russia to the west in trading ships and the disease spread because living  conditions favoured the rats, and no treatments were available.    Plague changed society and its values.    It signified  God’s displeasure and  Judgment Day  so you either spent what time remained pleasure-seeking or you repented and took to penance.    Status no longer mattered:  even kings died.   The old ways had to go.   The depopulated villages  abandoned, serfs migrated into towns for work.  The feudal system ended.  A comprehensive and scholarly view of  The  Black Death as gripping as any thriller. 

  

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