Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-5nwft Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-20T03:03:59.960Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Disaster recovery: new archaeological evidence for the long-term impact of the ‘calamitous’ fourteenth century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 May 2016

Carenza Lewis*
School of History and Heritage, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln LN6 7TS, UK (Email:


The Black Death swept across Europe and Asia in the fourteenth century, killing millions and devastating communities. Recent re-evaluations of source data, the discovery of new plague cemeteries and advances in genotyping have caused scholars to reconsider the extent of the devastation and to revise estimated mortality rates upwards. But what was the true impact of this catastrophic episode? Systematic test-pitting can reveal changes in medieval demography that can be both quantified and mapped at a range of scales. Comparing the relative amounts of high medieval (copious) to late medieval (much scarcer) pottery suggests that the pottery-using population across eastern England was around 45% lower in the centuries after the Black Death than before, and such comparison identifies exactly where this contraction was the most and least severely felt.

Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Aberth, J. 2001. On the brink of the apocalypse. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Bailey, M. 1996. Demographic decline in late medieval England: some thoughts on recent research. The Economic History Review 49: 119.Google Scholar
Bailey, M. 2007. Medieval Suffolk. Woodbridge: Boydell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Benedictow, O. 2004. The Black Death: the complete history. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer.Google Scholar
Beresford, M. & Finberg, H.P.R.. 1973. English medieval boroughs: a handlist. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.Google Scholar
Beresford, M. & Hurst, J.. 1971. Deserted medieval villages. Leicester: Lutterworth.Google Scholar
Bos, K., Schuenemann, V., Golding, G., Burbano, H., Waglechner, N., Coombes, B., McPhee, J., DeWitte, S., Meyer, M., Schmedes, S., Wood, J., Earn, D., Herring, D., Bauer, P. & Krause, J.. 2011. A draft genome of Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death. Nature 478: 506–10. CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bridbury, A.R. 1973. The Black Death. Economic History Review 26: 577–92. Google Scholar
Campbell, B.M.S. 2005. The agrarian problem in the early fourteenth century. Past & Present 188: 370. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Campbell, B.M.S. 2013. Disease intervenes: the Black Death and the ‘Great Transition’ to an alternative socio-ecological equilibrium. Ellen McArthur Lecture 4, 2013. Available at: (accessed 12 February 2016).Google Scholar
Campbell, B.M.S. In press. The Great Transition: climate, disease and society in the late medieval world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Davison, A. 1990. The evolution of settlement in three parishes (East Anglian Archaeology Report 49). Gressenhall: Norfolk Museums Service.Google Scholar
Denison-Edson, P. & Mills, A.. 2014. The Swaledale Big Dig. Forum: Journal of the Council for British Archaeology Yorkshire 4: 6576.Google Scholar
Dyer, C. 1982. The social and economic changes of the later middle ages, and the pottery of the period. Medieval Ceramics 6: 3350.Google Scholar
Fernández Mier, M., Fernández Fernández, J., Alonso González, P., López Sáez, J.A., Pérez Díaz, S. & Hernández Beloqui, B.. 2014. The investigation of currently inhabited villages of medieval origin: agrarian archaeology in Asturias (Spain). Quaternary International 346: 4155. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gerrard, C. & Aston, M.. 2007. The Shapwick project. Leeds: Society for Medieval Archaeology.Google Scholar
Haselgrove, C., Millett, M. & Smith, I. (ed.). 1985. Archaeology from the ploughsoil: studies in the collection and interpretation of field survey data. Sheffield: Department of Archaeology and Prehistory, University of Sheffield.Google Scholar
Hatcher, J. 1994. England in the aftermath of the Black Death. Past & Present 144: 335. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jones, R. 2005. Signatures in the soil: the use of pottery in manure scatters in the identification of medieval arable farming regimes. Archaeological Journal 161: 159–88. Google Scholar
Jones, R. 2010. Contrasting patterns of village and hamlet desertion in England, in Dyer, C. & Jones, R. (ed.) Deserted villages revisited: 827. Hertford: University of Hertfordshire Press.Google Scholar
Kacki, S., Rahalison, L., Minoarisoa Rajerison, M., Ferroglio, E. & Bianucci, R.. 2011. Black Death in the rural cemetery of Saint-Laurent-de-la-Cabrerisse Aude-Languedoc, southern France, 14th century: immunological evidence. Journal of Archaeological Science 38: 581–87. Google Scholar
Letters, S. 2005. Gazetteer of markets and fairs in England and Wales to 1516. London: Centre for Metropolitan History, Institute of Historical Research, University of London.Google Scholar
Lewis, C. 2005. Test-pit excavation within occupied settlements in East Anglia in 2005. Medieval Settlement Research Group Annual Report 20: 916.Google Scholar
Lewis, C. 2007. New avenues for the investigation of currently occupied rural settlement: preliminary observations from the Higher Education Field Academy. Medieval Archaeology 51: 133–64. Google Scholar
Lewis, C. 2008. Test-pit excavation within occupied settlements in East Anglia in 2008. Medieval Settlement Research Group Annual Report 23: 6068.Google Scholar
Lewis, C. 2014a. The power of pits: archaeology, outreach and research in living landscapes, in Boyle, K., Rabett, R. & Hunt, C. (ed.) Living in the landscape: 321–38. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.Google Scholar
Lewis, C. 2014b. Test-pit excavation within occupied settlements in East Anglia in 2013. Medieval Settlement Research Group Annual Report 29: 6681.Google Scholar
Lewis, C., Mitchell-Fox, P. & Dyer, C.. 1997. Village hamlet and field: changing medieval settlements in central England. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
Martin, E. & Satchell, M.. 2008. Wheare most inclosures be. East Anglian fields: history, morphology and management (East Anglian Archaeology Report 124). Ipswich: Archaeological Service, Suffolk County Council.Google Scholar
McCarthy, M. & Brooks, C.. 1988. Medieval pottery in Britain AD 900–1600. Leicester: Leicester University Press.Google Scholar
Nightingale, P. 2005. New evidence of crises and trends of mortality in late medieval England. Past & Present 187: 3368. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Oosthuizen, S. 2010. The distribution of two- and three-field systems in south Cambridgeshire before about 1350. Medieval Settlement Research 25: 2131.Google Scholar
Parker Pearson, M. & Schadla-Hall, R.T.. 1994. Looking at the land: archaeological landscapes in eastern England. Leicester: Leicester Museums, Arts and Records Service.Google Scholar
Parry, S. 2006. Raunds area survey. Oxford: Oxbow.Google Scholar
Pei, Q., Zhang, D.D., Li, G., Winterhalder, B. & Lee, H.F.. 2015. Epidemics in Ming and Qing China: impacts of changes of climate and economic well-being. Social Science & Medicine: 7380.Google Scholar
Poland, J.D. & Dennis, D.T.. 1999. Treatment of plague, in Dennis, D.T. & Gage, K.L. (ed.) Plague manual epidemiology, distribution, surveillance and control: 5562. Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
Postan, M.M. 1973. Essays on medieval agriculture and general problems of the medieval economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar
Power, E.E. 1918. The effects of the Black Death on rural organisation in England. History 3: 109–16.Google Scholar
Rippon, S. 2008. Beyond the medieval village: the diversity of landscape character in southern Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roberts, B.K. & Wrathmell, S.. 2000. An atlas of rural settlement. London: English Heritage. 001.0001 Google Scholar
Rogerson, A., Davison, A., Pritchard, D. & Silvester, R.. 1997. Barton Bendish and Caldecote: fieldwork in south-west Norfolk (East Anglian Archaeology Report 80). Gressenhall: Norfolk Museums Service.Google Scholar
Sloane, B. 2011. The Black Death in London. Stroud: History.Google Scholar
Tuchman, B. 1978. A distant mirror: the calamitous 14th century. New York: Ballantine.Google Scholar
Turner, S. & Webster, J.. 2012. Medieval and later settlement around Chessenon (Charente), France: fieldwork in 2011. Medieval Settlement Research 28: 6066.Google Scholar
Williamson, T. 2003. Shaping medieval landscapes. Macclesfield: Windgather.Google Scholar
Wright, A.P.M. & Lewis, C.P.. 1989. A history of the county of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: volume 9: Chesterton, Northstowe, and Papworth Hundreds. London: Victoria County History.Google Scholar
Ziegler, P. 1969. The Black Death. Stroud: Sutton.Google Scholar