Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Don't Blame The Rats!

When I lived in London in the early 1990s, there was talk of opening up a mass burial pit that lay under Spitalfields.
As it was thought to be the final resting place of many victims of the Black Plague (a global pandemic spread by rat fleas from Asia), people questioned the sanity of those who wished to study the dreaded killer. Now it seems the Spitalfields site was not a plague pit after all…
Scientific evidence, including carbon-dating of bones and geological data from across the globe, shows the C13th mass fatalities were caused by one of the largest volcanic eruptions of the last 10,000 years!
It was so big that its gases would have blocked out sunlight, altered atmospheric circulation patterns and cooled the Earth's surface by about 4C, a huge amount. This caused crops to wither, bringing famine, pestilence and death. Mass deaths required huge burial pits, as written in accounts of the time. In 1258, a monk reported: "The north wind prevailed for several months... the hope of harvest was uncertain... innumerable multitudes of poor people died, and their bodies were found lying all about swollen from want..."
There was no contemporary explanation - it was probably assumed to be a punishment from God. Of course, limited global geographical knowledge meant no-one then had any idea about a volcano down in the Tropics…or even that the region existed! Today, scientists think the culprit volcano was in Mexico, Ecuador or Indonesia, blasting up to eight times larger than Indonesia's 1883 Krakatoa eruption (which was one of the most catastrophic in history).
Some 10,500 medieval skeletons were found at Spitalfields, with indications of up to 18,000. As London's population then was only around 50,000, such a huge loss would've radically changed the city, and probably set a new fashion trend to appease God Almighty...
of sack cloth and ashes!

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