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16th Annual Conference of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology, London (12-14 septembre 2014)

BABAO_logoDans le cadre du « 16th Annual Conference of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology », qui aura lieu à Durham University (Royaume-Uni), Annelise Binois présentera la communication :

“The silence of the lambs. A paleoepidemiological approach to the identification and diagnosis of mass mortalities among archaeological livestock.”

Epizootics and other animal mass mortalities have undoubtedly plagued livestock ever since animals have been domesticated, and there is ample historical evidence testifying to the major concern these mortalities represented for agro-pastoral societies. However, very few archaeological deposits relating to epizootic disease have been studied and published in the archaeological record, and none, to our knowledge, has ever been the object of a diagnosis.

This presentation aims to address this knowledge gap, and more specifically the issue of pathogen identification in animal carcass deposits for which a mass mortality event can be demonstrated. Taking on the example of ovine mortalities, and illustrating our demonstration with the case studies of two French medieval and post-medieval sheep pits, we expose a novel diagnostic methodology combining a paleo-epidemiological approach and paleo-microbiological analyses, and present our preliminary results.

Since most mortality events, in their brutal onset, leave no traces on the bones of their victims, our approach uses indirect evidence. A reasoned analysis of judiciously chosen historical sources allows us to list the most frequent causes for mass mortalities in pre-modern sheep flocks, and to establish an epidemiological profile for each of these causes, compiling its characteristics in terms of age, sex, season, terrain, etc. The same information is obtained from the archaeological deposits by classical bio-archaeological analysis, and the profiles acquired by both methods are then compared. Statistically probable diagnostic hypotheses can therefore be identified, and be subsequently verified by further analysis, especially, when appropriate, by the identification of paleopathogens.

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