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The Black Death in Hereford, England: A demographic analysis of the Cathedral 14th-century plague mass graves and associated parish cemetery.

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OBJECTIVES: This study explores the paleoepidemiology of the Black Death (1348-52 AD) mass graves from Hereford, England, via osteological analysis. Hereford plague mortality is evaluated in the local context of the medieval city and examined alongside other Black Death burials. METHODS: The Hereford Cathedral site includes mass graves relating to the Black Death and a 12th-16th century parish cemetery. In total, 177 adult skeletons were analyzed macroscopically: 73 from the mass graves and 104 from the parish cemetery. Skeletal age-at-death was assessed using transition analysis, and sex and stress markers were analyzed. RESULTS: The age-at-death distributions for the mass graves and parish cemetery were significantly different (p = 0.0496). Within the mass graves, young adults (15-24 years) were substantially over-represented, and mortality peaked at 25-34 years. From 35 years of age onwards, there was little variation in the mortality profiles for the mass graves and parish cemetery. Males and females had similar representation across burial types. Linear enamel hypoplasia was more prevalent within the mass graves (p = 0.0340) whereas cribra orbitalia and tibial periostitis were underrepresented. CONCLUSIONS: Mortality within the Hereford mass graves peaked at a slightly older age than is seen within plague burials from London, but the overall profiles are similar. This demonstrates that young adults were disproportionately at risk of dying from plague compared with other age groups. Our findings regarding stress markers may indicate that enamel hypoplasia is more strongly associated with vulnerability to plague than cribra orbitalia or tibial periostitis.



Black Death, mass grave, paleoepidemiology, plague, transition analysis

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Am J Biol Anthropol

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