In historical writings and popular lore, the Black Death has long been portrayed as a cataclysmic event—a plague that wiped out 30% to 60% of Europe’s population, young and old, rich and poor. Yet historians in recent decades have struggled to find evidence of death on such a scale because of incomplete census records and a dearth of excavated mass graves. Now, The Washington Post reports that archaeologists have found evidence of a steep population decline in eastern English towns in relatively mundane objects—pottery shards. On average, researchers found 45% fewer pottery shards dating to the 2 centuries after the Black Death than those before it, they report online this month in Antiquity. Bolstered by other evidence suggesting that the drop was not from declining pottery use, the finding reflects a drastic population drop from which it took centuries to recover.
Read our COVID-19 research and news.