Sharon DeWitte

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

South Carolina, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 9229

Approve Date

April 8, 2016

Project Title

DeWitte, Dr. Sharon Nell, U. of South Carolina, Columbia, SC - To aid research on 'Diet and Health in the Context of Medieval Mortality Crises'

Preliminary abstract: Crisis mortality, a dramatic but temporary increase in mortality rate above the baseline level resulting from a single extraordinary factor, was an important phenomenon in past human populations and continues to affect living people in ways that might be preventable. One of the most important mortality crises in history was the Black Death; in Europe alone, the epidemic killed tens of millions of people in just a few years (1347-1351 CE). The medieval period in Europe also witnessed numerous devastating famines resulting from dramatic climatic shifts and epidemic diseases among livestock. This project uses skeletal samples from medieval London to examine the interactions among diet, sex, socioeconomic status, health, and mortality in the context of the medieval crises of famine and plague. Stable isotopic data informative about diet will be incorporated into paleodemographic analyses of trends in diet before the Black Death, changes in diet in the aftermath of the epidemic, how dietary resources varied between men and women and by socioeconomic status, and how survival through famine affected subsequent risks of mortality during the Black Death and under non-epidemic conditions. Paleodemographic analyses of famine burials will also reveal whether famine mortality in the past targeted particular individuals (e.g. men, children, and the frail) and how those patterns compare to observations in living populations. This study will improve our understanding of the social, economic, and biological context of crises events. By revealing who might be most vulnerable during crises and which factors most significantly affect negative health outcomes or risk of mortality, this project can help motivate action (e.g. increased and more equitable distribution of food and other resources to those people in greatest need) in advance of crises to ameliorate their potential devastating effects.