вторник, 5 мая 2020 г.

Infectious disease modelling study casts doubt on the Justinianic Plague’s impact


Many have claimed the Justinianic Plague (c. 541-750 CE) killed half of the population of Roman Empire. Now, historical research and mathematical modeling challenge the death rate and severity of this first plague pandemic.

Infectious disease modelling study casts doubt on the Justinianic Plague’s impact
The plague of Justinian, which has been linked to the decline of the Western Roman empire,
has been a renewed area of research in recent years [Credit: Alamy]


Researchers Lauren White, PhD and Lee Mordechai, PhD, of the University of Maryland's National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), examined the impacts of the Justinianic Plague with mathematical modeling. Using modern plague research as their basis, the two developed novel mathematical models to re-examine primary sources from the time of the Justinianic Plague outbreak. 

From the modeling, they found that it was unlikely that any transmission route of the plague would have had both the mortality rate and duration described in the primary sources. Their findings appear in a paper titled "Modeling the Justinianic Plague: Comparing hypothesized transmission routes" in PLOS ONE.


"This is the first time, to our knowledge, that a robust mathematical modeling approach has been used to investigate the Justinianic Plague," said lead author Lauren White, PhD, a quantitative disease ecologist and postdoctoral fellow at SESYNC. "Given that there is very little quantitative information in the primary sources for the Justinianic Plague, this was an exciting opportunity to think creatively about how we could combine present-day knowledge of plague's etiology with descriptions from the historical texts."

White and Mordechai focused their efforts on the city of Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire, which had a comparatively well-described outbreak in 542 CE. Some primary sources claim plague killed up to 300,000 people in the city, which had a population of some 500,000 people at the time. Other sources suggest the plague killed half the empire's population. 

Until recently, many scholars accepted this image of mass death. By comparing bubonic, pneumonic, and combined transmission routes, the authors showed that no single transmission route precisely mimicked the outbreak dynamics described in these primary sources.

Infectious disease modelling study casts doubt on the Justinianic Plague’s impact
Xenopsylla cheopis [Credit: CDC/Ken Gage]

Existing literature often assumes that the Justinianic Plague affected all areas of the Mediterranean in the same way. The new findings from this paper suggest that given the variation in ecological and social patterns across the region (e.g., climate, population density), it is unlikely that a plague outbreak would have impacted all corners of the diverse empire equally.

"Our results strongly suggest that the effects of the Justinianic Plague varied considerably between different urban areas in late antiquity," said co-author Lee Mordechai, an environmental historian and a postdoctoral fellow at SESYNC when he wrote the paper. He is now a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and co-lead of Princeton's Climate Change and History Research Initiative (CCHRI). He said, "This paper is part of a series of publications in recent years that casts doubt on the traditional interpretation of plague using new methodologies. It's an exciting time to do this kind of interdisciplinary research!"


Using an approach called global sensitivity analysis, White and Mordechai were able to explore the importance of any given model parameter in dictating simulated disease outcomes. They found that several understudied parameters are also very important in determining model results. White explained, "One example was the transmission rate from fleas to humans. Although the analysis described this as an important parameter, there hasn't been enough research to validate a plausible range for that parameter."

These high importance variables with minimal information also point to future directions for empirical data collection. "Working with mathematical models of disease was an insightful process for me as a historian," reflected Mordechai. "It allowed us to examine traditional historical arguments with a powerful new lens."

Together, with other recent work from Mordechai, this study is another call to examine the primary sources and narratives surrounding the Justinianic Plague more critically.




* This article was originally published here

New discoveries at the Mummification Workshop Complex at Saqqara


A new burial chamber has been discovered in the Mummification Workshop Complex in Saqqara by the Egyptian-German mission of the University of Tübingen, according to a recent announcement. The mission also announced the preliminary results of research on mummification material revealed in the Workshop back in 2018.

New discoveries at the Mummification Workshop Complex at Saqqara
Credit: Egypt. Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities



According to the announcement by Dr. Mostafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, brought to light a new burial chamber at the bottom of the communal burial shaft (30 m. deep) of the Mummification Workshop, the enormous facility found in 2018 featuring a large tomb complex with five burial chambers, and dating to the 26th Dynasty (664-525 BC). After more than a year of excavation and documentation, the mission has now discovered the sixth burial chamber which was hidden behind a 2,600 year old stone wall. The newly discovered chamber contained four wooden coffins in a bad state of preservation.

New discoveries at the Mummification Workshop Complex at Saqqara
Credit: Egypt. Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Dr. Ramadan Badry Hussein, the Director of the mission of the University of Tübingen at Saqqara has pointed out that one of the coffins belongs to a woman called Didibastett. She was buried with six canopic jars, in contrast to the typical ancient Egyptian custom of using four canopic jars to store the embalmed lungs, stomach, intestines, and liver of the deceased. The Mission examined the content of Didibastet’s two extra canopic jars using a computerized tomography (CT) scan, and the preliminary analysis of the images indicates that the two jars contain human tissue. Based on this result, there is a possibility that Didibastet had received a special form of mummification that preserved six organs of her body. The Mission’s radiologist is currently conducting a thorough study of the images in order to identify the two extra organs.

New discoveries at the Mummification Workshop Complex at Saqqara
Credit: Egypt. Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities



After studying the texts on the coffins and sarcophagi in the burial chambers, the mission identified priests and priestesses of a mysterious snake goddess, known as Niut-shaes. There are indications that the priests of Niut-shaes were buried together, and that she became a prominent goddess during Dynasty 26 and she probably had a major temple in Memphis, the administrative capital of ancient Egypt.

New discoveries at the Mummification Workshop Complex at Saqqara
Credit: Egypt. Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

A priestess and a priest of Niut-shaes, who were buried in the same burial chamber, were possibly Egyptianized immigrants. Their names, Ayput and Tjanimit, were common among the Libyan community who settled in Egypt from Dynasty 22 (ca. 943-716 BC) onwards. Ancient Egypt was a multicultural society that received immigrants from different parts of the ancient world, including Greeks, Libyans, and Phoenicians among others.

New discoveries at the Mummification Workshop Complex at Saqqara
Credit: Egypt. Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities



Dr. Ramadan Badri said that the Mission conducted non-invasive testing, called X-ray fluorescence, on the gilded silver mask, which was discovered on the face of the mummy of a priestess of the goddess Niut-shaes. This test determined the purity of the mask’s silver at 99.07%, higher than Sterling Silver at 92.5%. This gilded silver mask is the first in Egypt since 1939, and the third of such masks to ever be found in Egypt.

New discoveries at the Mummification Workshop Complex at Saqqara
Credit: Egypt. Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

An international team of archaeologists and chemists from the University of Tübingen, the University of Munich and the Egyptian National Research Centre in Cairo carried out chemical testing of the residue of oils and resins which were preserved in cups, bowls and pots found in the mummification workshop. Early results of these tests give a list of mummification substances, including bitumen (tar), cedar oil, cedar resin, pistachio resin, beeswax, animal fat, and possibly olive oil and juniper oil among others. The team is finalizing a report for scientific publication.

New discoveries at the Mummification Workshop Complex at Saqqara
Credit: Egypt. Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities



“Mummification was essentially a business transaction between a person and an embalmer, in which the embalmer was a professional, a priest and a business person. We learn from several papyri that there was a class of priests and embalmers who were paid to arrange for the funeral of a deceased including the mummification of her/his body and the purchase of a grave or a coffin,” said Dr. Hussain.

New discoveries at the Mummification Workshop Complex at Saqqara
Credit: Egypt. Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

In July 2018, Dr. Khaled El Enany, the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, announced to the world the unprecedented discovery of a mummification workshop complex at Saqqara from Dynasty 26 (ca. 664-525 BC). It included a mummification workshop, an Embalmer’s cachette full of pottery, and a communal burial shaft. This shaft is 30 m. deep and has six tombs. The tombs contained ca. 54 mummies and skeletons, five large sarcophagi, a dozen of calcite (Egyptian alabaster) canopic jars, thousands of shawabtis figurines, and a very rare gilded silver mummy mask. This discovery was rated among the top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2018 by the Archaeology Magazine and Heritage Daily.

The Mission of the University of Tübingen will resume its full investigation of Dynasty 26 cemetery at Saqqara in the winter of 2020.




* This article was originally published here

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