Date of Award

Summer 2022

Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Sharon DeWitte


Bioarchaeological studies have provided important information about mortality patterns during the Second Pandemic of Plague, including the Black Death, but to date have focused exclusively on European contexts. This study represents a temporal and spatial expansion of plague bioarchaeology, focusing on Central Asia, the origin of the Second Pandemic. I examine the relationship between stature, gender, and plague mortality during an outbreak of plague at two fortified settlements in northern Kyrgyzstan in 1338-39, the earliest archaeological sites known to contain victims of the Black Death in Eurasia.

Stature is frequently used in bioarchaeology as a proxy for exposures to developmental stress. Previous research in England examining the association between stature and risk of mortality during plague outbreaks found higher risks during the Black Death for relatively short individuals. These studies used sex estimated from the skeleton as a proxy for gender; however, this study uses culturally specific data on gender from epigraphs. Epigraphic data and in situ measurements from Syriac Christian cemeteries at these sites, obtained from field notes from excavations conducted by Russian archaeologists in the 1880s (n=119 individuals), provides detailed information about the interred individuals, including occupations, year of death, and gender. This study uses Chi-square, Fisher’s exact, and Mann Whitney U tests to examine relationships between stature, plague, age, and gender at the sites.

This study finds that shorter men are disproportionately affected by plague when compared to non-plague years. Conversely, there is no significant association between stature and mortality during plague and non-plague years for women. These results might reflect variation by gender/sex with respect to physiological or cultural buffering.

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Anthropology Commons