Plague in diachronic and Interdisciplinary perspective

Posted on February 22, 2017

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This weeks videos come from a session at the EAA conference on the plague. Lots of presentations from people in different disciplines:

 

Friday, 2 September 2016, 09:00-16:00
Faculty of History, Room SP1
Author – Gutsmiedl-Schümann, Doris, Universität Bonn,
Vor- und Frühgeschichtliche Archäologie, Bonn, Germany (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Kacki, Sacha, Anthropologie des Populations Passées et Présentes,
Université de Bordeaux, Pessac, France
Co-author(s) – Keller, Marcel, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany
Co-author(s) – Lee, Christina, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Keywords: Diachronic perspective, Plague

Plague, an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, occurred in at least three major historical pandemics: the Justinianic Plague (6th to 8th century), the Black Death (from 14th century onwards), and the modern or Hong Kong Plague (19th to 20th century). Yet DNA from bronze age human skeleton has recently shown that the plague first emerged at least as early as 3000 BC. Plague is, as any disease, both a biological as well as a social entity. Different disciplines can therefore elucidate different aspects of the plague, which can lead to a better understanding of this disease and its medical and social implications.
The session shall address questions like:
• Which disciplines can contribute to the research on the plague? What are their methodological possibilities and limitations?
• How can they work together in order to come to a more realistic and detailed picture of the plague in different times and
regions?
• Which ways had societies to react to the plague? How can they be studied or proved?
• Which commons and differences can be seen between the Justinianic Plague and later plague epidemics? Are there
epidemiological characteristics that are essential and/or unique to plague?
• What are possible implications of the pandemic spread and endemic occurrence of plague through the ages for the
interpretation of historical and cultural phenomena?
We would like to invite researchers from the disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, biology, history, medicine and related subjects to present papers in our session.

Introduction

 

https://youtu.be/agw3NnfOpAw

From Mild to Murderous: How Yersinia pestis Evolved to Cause Pneumonic Plague

https://youtu.be/fbeAcPRJPpA

Author – Dr. Lathem, Wyndham, Northwestern University, Chicago, United States of America (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Zimbler, Daniel, Northwestern University, Chicago, United States of America
Co-author(s) – Eddy, Justin, Northwestern University, Chicago, United States of America
Co-author(s) – Schroeder, Jay, Northwestern University, Chicago, United States of America
Co-author(s) – Ritzert, Jeremy, Northwestern University, Chicago, United States of America
Keywords: evolution, plague, pneumonia

How do new pathogens emerge, and how do these pathogens take advantage of host processes and pathways to cause disease? Yersinia pestis, the etiological agent of plague, is a recently emerged clone of the gastrointestinal pathogen Y. pseudotuberculosis, but the specific genetic changes that enabled Yersinia to cause the respiratory disease known as pneumonic plague are not well understood. By using a mouse model of respiratory infection combined with comparative genetic and genomic studies between Yersinia species, we have identified two specific events – the acquisition of the Pla protease and the inactivation of the YadA adhesin – as key steps in the emergence of Y. pestis as an easily transmissible, severe respiratory pathogen. The acquisition of the Pla protease enabled emergent, ancestral Y. pestis strains to grow to high levels in the lungs and cause a fulminant, multifocal severe pneumonia, while the loss of YadA shifted the respiratory infection from a restricted, granuloma-like pathology to a loosely contained, easily expelled state. Indeed, the loss of YadA by Y. pseudotuberculosis may have been a key step by which Y. pestis acquired the ability to be spread by respiratory droplets, thus enabling epidemics of pneumonic plague.

Fleas, rats and other stories – The palaeoecology of the Black Death

https://youtu.be/fRyWKb1RgP0 Author – Panagiotakopulu, Eva, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom (Presenting author)
Keywords: fleas, palaeoecology, plague

Bubonic plague is a disease which involves various animal vectors and hosts and its ecology is both complex and of importance in terms of its spread and virulence. The origin of the Black Death is central to its better understanding and can throw light on the medieval pandemic and later epidemics. This paper discusses the ecology and biogeography of bubonic plague and looks into the natural history and palaeoecology relating to its vectors, primary and secondary, Xenospylla cheopis and other flea species and hosts, the e.g. Arvicanthis niloticus and Rattus rattus. The possible origins of the disease and its connection with the first urban centres of Egypt and Mesopotamia are discussed taking into account climatic, environmental and archaeological evidence. The hypothesis of the spread of the Black Death via trade links with Asia and Europe, in relation to the relevant archaeological record are also explored.

Reconstructing ancient pathogens – discovery of Yersinia pestis in Eurasia 5,000 Years Ago

https://youtu.be/25HL_jqfyJI Author – PhD Rasmussen, Simon, Technical University of Denmark, Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Allentoft, Morten, Center for Geogenetics, Copenhagen, Denmark
Co-author(s) – Nielsen, Kasper, Technical University of Denmark, Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark
Co-author(s) – Orlando, Ludovic, Center for Geogenetics, Copenhagen, Denmark
Co-author(s) – Sikora, Martin, Center for Geogenetics, Copenhagen, Denmark
Co-author(s) – Sjögren, Karl-Göran, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
Co-author(s) – Kristiansen, Kristian, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
Co-author(s) – Willerslev, Eske, Center for Geogenetics, Copenhagen, Denmark
Keywords: ancient DNA, paleogenomics, plague

The bacterium Yersinia pestis is the etiological agent of plague and has caused human pandemics with millions of deaths in historic times. How and when it originated remains contentious. Here, we report the oldest direct evidence of Yersinia pestis identified by ancient DNA in human teeth from Asia and Europe dating from 2,800 to 5,000 years ago. By sequencing the genomes, we find that these ancient plague strains are basal to all known Yersinia pestis. We find the origins of the Yersinia pestis lineage to be at least two times older than previous estimates. We also identify a temporal sequence of genetic changes that lead to increased virulence and the emergence of the bubonic plague. Our results show that plague infection was endemic in the human populations of Eurasia at least 3,000 years before any historical recordings of pandemics. Our findings open the possibility of identifying other blood borne pathogens directly from human remains (See S. Rasmussen, M. E. Allentoft, K. Nielsen, L. Orlando, M. Sikora, K.-G. Sjögren …
E. Willerslev (2015). Early Divergent Strains of Yersinia pestis in Eurasia 5,000 Years Ago. Cell, 163:571–582).

Plague in the eastern Mediterranean region 1200-1000 BC?

https://youtu.be/GnUat489z34 Author – Prof. Walloe, Lars, University of Oslo, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Department of Physiology, Oslo, Norway (Presenting author)
Keywords: demographic crises, Mycenae, plague

Over a period of 150 years from about 1200 BC, the Mycenaean states collapsed. The great Mycenaean centres did not decline slowly during this period, but suffered sudden destruction at the very peak of their prosperity. Five hypotheses have been proposed to explain the collapse: invasion, civil war, local risings, earthquakes and climate change. However, none of them seems to provide a satisfactory explanation of the existing archaeological material. At about the same time, similar disturbances and destruction also afflicted Cyprus, Syria and Anatolia, and the Hittite empire came to an end. The temporal and geographical distribution of these disasters and the subsequent course of events in the Aegean region show a strong similarity to developments in the European region following the two later pandemics of plague. In addition, there is strong documentary evidence that there was at least one epidemic of bubonic plague with high mortality in the eastern Mediterranean region at the relevant time. Recent analyses of Bronze Age DNA sequences resembling Yersinia pestis indicate that the infection was endemic in human populations, and that it acquired sufficient virulence to cause bubonic plague at some point in time between 1600 and 950 BC.

L. Wall e: Was the disruption of the Mycenaean world caused by repeated epidemics of bubonic plague? Opuscula
Atheniensia, 24:121-126, 1999;
S. Rasmussen et al.: Early divergent strains of Yersinia pestis in Eurasia 5000 years ago. Cell, 163:571-582, 2015.

Placing the Plague of Justinian in the Yersinia pestis phylogenetic context

https://youtu.be/3OToQN_1fks Author – Klunk, Jennifer, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Wagner, David, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, United States of America
Co-author(s) – Sahl, Jason, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, United States of America
Co-author(s) – Golding, G. Brian, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Co-author(s) – Waglechner, Nicholas, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Co-author(s) – Holmes, Edward, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Co-author(s) – Poinar, Hendrik, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada
Keywords: ancient DNA, phylogenetics, plague of Justinian

The phylogenetic tree of the plague-causing pathogen Yersinia pestis has expanded in the last five years to include ancient draft genome sequences, which have allowed facets of the history of this disease to be explored in ways that were previously impossible. This pathogen has caused at least three human plague pandemics: the Plague of Justinian (6th-8th centuries), the Black Death (1347-1352 with waves continuing from the 14th-18th centuries) and the modern pandemic (19th-20th centuries), which have all been genetically characterized. Here we present the draft genomes obtained from two individuals who died in the first pandemic that allowed for genetic characterization of this pandemic. On the basis of maximum likelihood phylogenetic analyses, we conclude that the Y. pestis lineages that caused the Plague of Justinian and the Black Death 800 years later were independent emergences from rodents into humans. These results show that rodent species worldwide represent important reservoirs for the repeated emergence of diverse lineages of Y. pestis into human populations. In contrast, recently published Y. pestis sequences from the 18th century plague outbreak in Marseille, France do show ancestry in the strains obtained from Black Death victims, but are not represented in any sampled modern lineages. Taken in concert, the phylogenetics of ancient pandemic Y.pestis genomes reveal that the geographical spread of the disease and subsequent establishment of rodent reservoirs varied between pandemics.

Early medieval burials of plague victims: examples from Aschheim and Altenerding (Bavaria, Germany)

https://youtu.be/VxApuvMlzeA Author – Dr. Gutsmiedl-Schümann, Doris, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Harbeck, Michaela, Department of Anthropology,
State Collection for Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy, Munich, Germany
Co-author(s) – Keller, Marcel, Department of Anthropology,
State Collection for Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy, Munich, Germany
Co-author(s) – Päffgen, Bernd, Ludwig-Maximilian’s-University Munich, Munich, Germany
Co-author(s) – Rott, Andreas, Department of Anthropology, State Collection for Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy, Munich, Germany
Keywords: early medieval cemetery, Justinianic Plague, Upper Bavaria

With this paper, we present burials from two early medieval cemeteries, Aschheim-Bajuwarenring and Altenerding/Klettham where the causative agent of plague, Yersinia pestis, could be detected palaeogenetically. The burials from the early medieval cemeteries of Aschheim-Bajuwarenring and Altenerding/Klettham show that plague victims have been dressed and prepared carefully for their funeral. Compared to other graves from these cemeteries on the one hand and to contemporary burials in general, nothing basically indicates that the Y. pestis infected individuals had been treated different than other deceased. Among the buried who were infected with Y. pestis occurred some of the richest and most wellequipped graves of the cemeteries. Therefore, it cannot be proven on base of the Early Medieval plague graves of the Munich gravel plain that “[…]at that time all the customary rites of burial were overlooked. For the dead were not carried out escorted by a procession in the customary manner, nor were the usual chants sung over them […]” (Procopius, De Bello Persico II 23, 15). On the contrary: the burial rites, as far as reconstructable, had been carefully conducted. The only difference is that the so far confirmed victims of the plague seem to have been more often buried in double or multiple burials. However, the screening of single burials is still in an initial stage.

The Justinianic Plague was nevertheless a disease that affected Europe in the Late Antiquity, but its occurrence appears not
everywhere as catastrophic as the written sources make us believe.

Analysis of a High-coverage Yersinia pestis Genome from a 6th Century Justinianic Plague Victim

https://youtu.be/ZwpOWlH0caA Author – Feldman, Michal, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Harbeck, Michaela, State Collection of Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy, Munich, Germany
Co-author(s) – Keller, Marcel, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany
Co-author(s) – Spyrou, Maria, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany
Co-author(s) – Rott, Andreas, State Collection of Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy, Munich, Germany
Co-author(s) – Trautmann, Bernd, State Collection of Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy, Munich, Germany
Co-author(s) – Scholz, Holger, Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology, Munich, Germany
Co-author(s) – Päffgen, Bernd, Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich, Germany
Co-author(s) – Peters, Joris, State Collection of Anthropology and Palaeoanatomy, Munich, Germany
Co-author(s) – McCormick, Michael, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Co-author(s) – Bos, Kirsten, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany
Co-author(s) – Herbig, Alexander, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany
Co-author(s) – Krause, Johannes, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany
Keywords: ancient DNA, yersinia pestis, plague

The Justinianic Plague, which started in the 6th century and lasted to the mid-8th century, is the first out of at least three historically documented plague pandemics. High numbers of casualties caused by the disease were suggested to be a contributing factor to the decline of the Eastern Roman Empire, marking the transition from the Antique to the Middle Ages. Historical accounts as well as molecular data suggest the gram negative bacterium Yersinia pestis (Y. pestis) as the etiological agent of this massive plague outbreak. Here we present a high coverage Y. pestis genome, obtained from a 6th century skeleton recovered from a Southern German graveyard close to Munich. The reconstructed ancient Y. pestis genome is characterized by substitutions that are unique to this lineage, and structural differences in regions of the genome that have been previously suggested as virulence factors. These results may be influential for functional investigations that could explore the role of these newly discovered genomic characteristics in terms of physiology, virulence and host adaptation. We confirm Y. pestis was circulating in mainland Europe during the Justinian pandemic and that this lineage is likely to have become extinct, as previously published based on a draft Y. pestis genome from the same time period and similar geographic origin. Comparative analysis of the two Y. pestis genomes suggests a rapid spread of the plague during the 6th century in Southern Germany.

Plague in Valencia, 546: A Case Study of the Integration of Texts and Archaeology

https://youtu.be/6IY1_roCdjY Author – Gruber, Henry, Harvard University, Cambridge, United States of America (Presenting author)
Keywords: bubonic plague, mass graves, Spain

Although so-called Justinianic Pandemic of Yersinia pestis that began in the early 540s dramatically altered the history of the Mediterranean, our information about it is fragmentary. This is especially true in the Western Mediterranean, where few narratives or documents reveal the plague’s impact. Archaeology can fill these gaps. Recent work on the prevalence of mass graves in the late- and immediately post-Roman world suggests that mass graves, properly understood, can serve as a proxy for mass death. However, despite the work being done to bring together the documentation of these graves, it has been difficult to know whether these graves result from plague, famine, violence, or some other unknown cause.
In this paper, I will argue that the canons of the Council of Valencia provide us with a test case for combining archaeological and philological evidence for the Justinianic Pandemic. The council was held in 546, three years after the first outbreaks of plague in Spain. The fifth canon is cocnerned with the sudden and unexpected death of bihsops and legislates that bishops be buried “in their own place”, so that “the old traditions for burying bishops might not be dishonored.” Given the large number of sixth-century mass graves from Valencia, concern about the proper burial of bishops “in their own place” suggests an institutional reaction to the plague pandemic and the breakdown of traditional burial practices. The evidence, however, is not straightforward.
The paper is divided into three parts. The first analyzes the canon within the context of debates on the care of the dead in Late Antiquity. The second studies the archaeological evidence for burials in Valencia, both those of bishops within the sixthcentury ecclesiastical complex and the mass graves that are currently being documented. The third reflects methodologically on the potential for integrating church documents and funerary archaeology. This study will use the concatenation of evidence from Valencia to both chart a specific instance of the Late Antique plague and showcase the promise – and difficulty – inherent in the interdisciplinary study of bubonic plague.

Germany and the Black Death: a zooarchaeological approach

https://youtu.be/YBgdQs1p_zU Author – MA Paxinos, Ptolemaios-Dimitrios, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München,
Munich, Germany (Presenting author)
Keywords: Black Death, livestock keeping, size

Zooarchaeology is the study of faunal remains from archaeological sites. Animal bones can be used to track changes e.g. in herd composition, size or animal health. Significant changes in size over short periods of time are a testimony of the human influence upon their livestock. An increase in size can be triggered through food of higher quality, improvement of keeping conditions, but also through the import of new breeds from areas with specialized animal breeding. A decrease of size on the other hand is interpreted as deterioration caused not only by exogenous factors such as climatic shift and epizootic diseases, but also by societal and demographical changes. Zooarchaeological evidence can therefore reveal new, non-documented aspects. In the first half of the 14th century AD several devastating events affected great parts of Europe, leading to a gradual transformation of human society. The instability and unpredictability of the climate was the main cause of successive famines between 1315 and 1317, resulting in the loss of many lives. At the same time epizootics among cattle and sheep causing massive casualties across Central and Northern Europe must have had a great impact on the human nutrition. In the mid of the 14th century the Black Death (1347–1352) hit the European continent, causing long-term social and economic changes. The focus of the present paper is on German Late-Medieval and Renaissance archaeological sites. In two particular finding sites, the zooarchaeological evidence suggests that the Black Death had a negative impact on domestic livestock, especially on cattle. In addition supra-regional studies reveal that the impact differed not only between geographical localities, but also between settlement types.

A demographic history of the plague bacillus revealed through ancient Yersinia pestis genomes

https://youtu.be/bcTKxzCHv8c Author – Spyrou, Maria, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany (Presenting author)
Co-author(s) – Tukhbatova, Rezeda, Laboratory of Paleoanthropology & Paleogenetics, Kazan Federal University, Russi, Kazan, Russian Federation
Co-author(s) – Feldman, Michal, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany
Co-author(s) – Drath, Joanna, Department of Archeological Sciences, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
Co-author(s) – Kacki, Sacha, PACEA, CNRS Institute, Université de Bordeaux, Pessac, France
Co-author(s) – Beltr n de Heredia, Juila, Museu de Historia de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
Co-author(s) – Arnold, Susanne, State Office for Cultural Heritage Management Baden-Württemberg, Esslingen, Germany
Co-author(s) – Sitdikov, Airat, Institute of Archaeology named after A. Kh. Khalikov, Kazan, Russian Federation
Co-author(s) – Castex, Dominique, PACEA, CNRS Institute, Université de Bordeaux, Pessac, France
Co-author(s) – Wahl, Joachim, State Office for Cultural Heritage Management Baden-Württemberg,
Osteology, Konstanz, Germany
Co-author(s) – Galimzyanov, Ilgizar, Institute of Archaeology named after A. Kh. Khalikov, Kazan, Russian Federation
Co-author(s) – Nurgaliev, Danis, Institute of Geology and Petroleum Technologies,
Kazan Federal University, Kazan, Russian Federation
Co-author(s) – Herbig, Alexander, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany
Co-author(s) – Bos, Kirsten, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany
Co-author(s) – Krause, Johannes, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany
Keywords: ancient DNA, Black Death, plague

One of the most devastating events in human history was the second plague pandemic, which began with the Black Death (1347- 1353). Sporadic outbreaks of plague continued in Europe until the 18th century, when the disease essentially disappeared. Initial sequencing of Yersinia pestis genomes from London victims of the second plague pandemic, identified the Black Death as the event that gave rise to most of the Y. pestis genetic diversity present around the world today. This result raised further interest regarding the relationship of this lineage to the ones associated with post-Black Death outbreaks, and to modern plague lineages. Recent climatic and ancient DNA studies have attempted to explore these relationships, although a clear consensus is still yet to be reached. Here, we present three historical Y. pestis genomes from the second plague pandemic in Spain, Russia and Germany. Our results provide support for low genetic diversity in the plague bacterium during the Black Death, followed by a subsequent eastward travel of lineages to later become the source for the worldwide third plague pandemic, which began during the 19th century in China. In addition, our data from a post-Black Death outbreak in Germany are best explained by the persistence of a European plague lineage that is now likely extinct.

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