The devastation wrought by the Black Death plague pandemic in medieval England has been revealed in a uniquely detailed archaeological study carried out for more than a decade with the help of thousands of village volunteers.
Although some historians have played down the impact of the bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the 1300s, new research shows that the Black Death was as deadly as described in writings that have survived from the time, with some villages suffering an almost 80 percent drop in population after the plague.
The study gathered and analyzed data about broken pieces of domestic pottery found in more than 2,000 test pits measuring 11 square feet (1 square meter) at the surface and up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) deep that were dug in 55 villages in eastern England. [See Photos of How Archaeologists Tracked the Impact of the Black Death]
The test pits were excavated from 2005 to 2014 by an estimated 10,000 volunteers, including students, homeowners and local community groups, under supervision by archaeologists and trained local team leaders. Each of the villages in the survey is known to have been occupied before the Black Death, which by some estimates killed more than 3 million people in England between 1346 and 1351.
In most of the surveyed villages, the quantities of pottery pieces indicate sharp long-term falls in population from the time of the Black Death. Many village populations did not recover until about 200 years later, in the 16th century.
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