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Black Death wiped millions but made life better for future generations: Study

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Death and suffering have always been associated with the Black Death but a new study suggests that the pandemic, which was responsible for up to 200 million deaths in the medieval times, has actually contributed to making life better for those who survived and the generations that came after the plague.

The study, which was published in the journal PLOS One on May 7, has found evidence that the people who survived the epidemic, which dramatically reduced the world's population in the 14th century, lived significantly longer and healthier than those who lived before the plague first struck Europe in 1347.

By studying and analyzing specific markers found in the skeletal remains of over 1,000 individuals who lived before, during and after the pandemic, study researcher Sharon DeWitte, an anthropologist from the University of South Carolina, found that the Black Death did not strike just anyone.

DeWitte's study suggests that the Black Death actually targeted frail people. Older adults, for instance, were more likely to die from the epidemic than younger individuals. People with poor health were also more likely to die during the course of the outbreak than those with better health.

"Thus, despite its incredibly high levels of mortality, the Black Death was, like most normal causes of death, a selective killer," DeWitte wrote.

DeWitte also found that those who survived the Black Death had improved health and lived longer than the people who lived prior to the pandemic. She said that the improved longevity may be due to the plague eliminating those who were weak and frail or possibly because of the side effects of another plague. The improved health in the post-Black Death population is likewise an evidence of the ability to endure diseases.

Because a large percentage of the population was dead after the plague, DeWitte said that the survivors had more resources available for them. They had better diet and were eating more bread, fish and meat which eventually improved their health. She also found that the Bubonic plague made significant contributions that shaped the mortality patterns of the generations that came after the plague.

"The results of this study indicate that the general population enjoyed a period of at least 200 years during which mortality and survival overall improved compared to the pre-Black Death conditions," DeWitte said.

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