Archaeological Record revelations about epidemics:

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by paddoboy, Jun 16, 2020.

  1. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    What the archaeological record reveals about epidemics throughout history – and the human response to them

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    These round lesions are pathognomonic signs of syphilis. Credit: Charlotte Roberts, CC BY-ND

    The previous pandemics to which people often compare COVID-19—the influenza pandemic of 1918, the Black Death bubonic plague (1342-1353), the Justinian plague (541-542) – don't seem that long ago to archaeologists. We're used to thinking about people who lived many centuries or even millennia ago. Evidence found directly on skeletons shows that infectious diseases have been with us since our beginnings as a species.

    Bioarchaeologists like us analyze skeletons to reveal more about how infectious diseases originated and spread in ancient times.

    How did aspects of early people's social behavior allow diseases to flourish? How did people try to care for the sick? How did individuals and entire societies modify behaviors to protect themselves and others?

    Knowing these things might help scientists understand why COVID-19 has wreaked such global devastation and what needs to be put in place before the next pandemic.

    Clues about illnesses long ago

    How can bioarchaeologists possibly know these things, especially for early cultures that left no written record? Even in literate societies, poorer and marginalized segments were rarely written about.

    In most archaeological settings, all that remains of our ancestors is the skeleton.
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  3. Hercules Rockefeller Beatings will continue until morale improves. Moderator

    Thanks. Interesting article.

    When it comes to diseases and pandemics, I'm always baffled by the seemingly near total lack of appreciation of the 2009 H1N1 influenza A pandemic (the so-called “swine flu”). Estimates of swine flu mortality varies depending on methodology and source, but the average is usually ~250,000 with an upper estimate of ~500,000. This makes it comparable with SARS-CoV-2 at ~433,000 deaths, yet swine flu is somehow not a part of the 21st century zeitgeist. I don't get it, but it probably has a lot to do with the majority of swine flu deaths being in developing countries rather than 'the west'.
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