Palaeoecological data indicates land-use changes across Europe linked to spatial heterogeneity in mortality during the Black Death pandemic

A. Izdebski, P. Guzowski, R. Poniat, L. Masci, J. Palli, C. Vignola, M. Bauch, C. Cocozza, R. Fernandes, F. C. Ljungqvist, T. Newfield, A. Seim, D. Abel-Schaad, F. Alba-Sánchez, L. Björkman, A. Brauer, A. Brown, S. Czerwiński, A. Ejarque, M. FiłocA. Florenzano, E. D. Fredh, R. Fyfe, N. Jasiunas, P. Kołaczek, K. Kouli, R. Kozáková, M. Kupryjanowicz, P. Lagerås, M. Lamentowicz, M. Lindbladh, J. A. López-Sáez, R. Luelmo-Lautenschlaeger, K. Marcisz, F. Mazier, S. Mensing, A. M. Mercuri, K. Milecka, Y. Miras, A. M. Noryśkiewicz, E. Novenko, M. Obremska, S. Panajiotidis, M. L. Papadopoulou, A. Pędziszewska, S. Pérez-Díaz, G. Piovesan, A. Pluskowski, P. Pokorny, A. Poska, T. Reitalu, M. Rösch, L. Sadori, C. Sá Ferreira, D. Sebag, M. Słowiński, M. Stančikaitė, N. Stivrins, I. Tunno, S. Veski, A. Wacnik, A. Masi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations

Abstract

The Black Death (1347–1352 ce) is the most renowned pandemic in human history, believed by many to have killed half of Europe’s population. However, despite advances in ancient DNA research that conclusively identified the pandemic’s causative agent (bacterium Yersinia pestis), our knowledge of the Black Death remains limited, based primarily on qualitative remarks in medieval written sources available for some areas of Western Europe. Here, we remedy this situation by applying a pioneering new approach, ‘big data palaeoecology’, which, starting from palynological data, evaluates the scale of the Black Death’s mortality on a regional scale across Europe. We collected pollen data on landscape change from 261 radiocarbon-dated coring sites (lakes and wetlands) located across 19 modern-day European countries. We used two independent methods of analysis to evaluate whether the changes we see in the landscape at the time of the Black Death agree with the hypothesis that a large portion of the population, upwards of half, died within a few years in the 21 historical regions we studied. While we can confirm that the Black Death had a devastating impact in some regions, we found that it had negligible or no impact in others. These inter-regional differences in the Black Death’s mortality across Europe demonstrate the significance of cultural, ecological, economic, societal and climatic factors that mediated the dissemination and impact of the disease. The complex interplay of these factors, along with the historical ecology of plague, should be a focus of future research on historical pandemics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-306
Number of pages10
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Volume6
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors acknowledge the following funding sources: Max Planck Independent Research Group, Palaeo-Science and History Group (A.I., A.M. and C.V.); Estonian Research Council #PRG323, PUT1173 (A.Pos., T.R., N.S. and S.V.); European Research Council #FP7 263735 (A.Bro. and A.Plu.), #MSC 655659 (A.E.); Georgetown Environmental Initiative (T.N.); Latvian Council of Science #LZP-2020/2-0060 (N.S. and N.J.); LLNL-JRNL-820941 (I.T.); NSF award #GSS-1228126 (S.M.); Polish-Swiss Research Programme #013/2010 CLIMPEAT (M.Lam.), #086/2010 CLIMPOL (A.W.); Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education #N N306 275635 (M.K.); Polish National Science Centre #2019/03/X/ST10/00849 (M.Lam.), #2015/17/B/ST10/01656 (M.Lam.), #2015/17/B/ST10/03430 (M.Sło.), #2018/31/B/ST10/02498 (M.Sło.), #N N304 319636 (A.W.); SCIEX #12.286 (K.Mar.); Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness #REDISCO-HAR2017-88035-P (J.A.L.S.); Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports #FPU16/00676 (R.L.L.); Swedish Research Council #421-2010-1570 (P.L.), #2018-01272 (F.C.L. and A.S.); Volkswagen Foundation Freigeist Fellowship Dantean Anomaly (M.B.), Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation #RTI2018-101714-B-I00 (F.A.S. and D.A.S.), OP RDE, MEYS project #CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000728 (P.P.).

Funding Information:
The authors acknowledge the following funding sources: Max Planck Independent Research Group, Palaeo-Science and History Group (A.I., A.M. and C.V.); Estonian Research Council #PRG323, PUT1173 (A.Pos., T.R., N.S. and S.V.); European Research Council #FP7 263735 (A.Bro. and A.Plu.), #MSC 655659 (A.E.); Georgetown Environmental Initiative (T.N.); Latvian Council of Science #LZP-2020/2-0060 (N.S. and N.J.); LLNL-JRNL-820941 (I.T.); NSF award #GSS-1228126 (S.M.); Polish-Swiss Research Programme #013/2010 CLIMPEAT (M.Lam.), #086/2010 CLIMPOL (A.W.); Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education #N N306 275635 (M.K.); Polish National Science Centre #2019/03/X/ST10/00849 (M.Lam.), #2015/17/B/ST10/01656 (M.Lam.), #2015/17/B/ST10/03430 (M.Sło.), #2018/31/B/ST10/02498 (M.Sło.), #N N304 319636 (A.W.); SCIEX #12.286 (K.Mar.); Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness #REDISCO-HAR2017-88035-P (J.A.L.S.); Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports #FPU16/00676 (R.L.L.); Swedish Research Council #421-2010-1570 (P.L.), #2018-01272 (F.C.L. and A.S.); Volkswagen Foundation Freigeist Fellowship Dantean Anomaly (M.B.), Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation #RTI2018-101714-B-I00 (F.A.S. and D.A.S.), OP RDE, MEYS project #CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/16_019/0000728 (P.P.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s).

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • RIETI

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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