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Approved research

After the plague: genetic history of medieval Cambridge population in relation to present-day population of Britain

Principal Investigator: Professor Toomas Kivisild
Approved Research ID: 54698
Approval date: February 17th 2020

Lay summary

This project studies the historical effects of disease epidemics and social stratification on the population of Cambridge through time. Using evidence from ancient and modern DNA as well as methods from archaeology, history, osteoarchaeology, isotopic and osteopathology it asks how healthy and how different from each other were people from different social classes in the past and how they compare to the people from different parts of Britain today, using the UK Biobank data as a reference. One of the main foci of the project is on a recently excavated large sample of urban poor people from the Hospital of St. John (AD 1200-1500), complemented by comparative samples from other medieval social contexts and other historical periods. The results will be analysed both statistically and biographically. A proximate goal is to build a nuanced picture of health, lifestyle and activity in medieval England, one grounded in direct examination of human bodies themselves. The overall goal, however, is to understand the biosocial effects of the Black Death of 1348-1350, an epidemic of bubonic plague which decimated Europe. By comparing samples from before and after the epidemic for a wide range of social and biological indicators, including phenotype related evidence from the UK Biobank, this research will aim to reveal how the plague changed human well-being, activity, mobility, health and the genetic constitution of Europe.