Tasks for Class Time:

Mouse and Walnut in a mosaic of an unswept floor on the actual floor of a dining room in Roman villa.

Mouse and Walnut in a mosaic of an unswept floor on the actual floor of a dining room in Roman villa.

  1. Create an ArcGIS Online Account following this link or instructions below (2 minutes)
  2. Listen to “Aiding and A-vetting” podcast (link below). (45 minutes)
  3. Go over the table “General patterns in the evolution of infectious disease” (5-10 minutes)
  4. Review reading Comp Questions if you haven’t already. Post response (below) or exit ticket (collab) to reading discussion questions and/or comment on the ‘evolution of infectious disease’ table. (18 minutes)

1. Create an ArcGIS Online Account

You’ll use this account on Thursday for the nineteenth-century disease and quarantine activity. Anyone affiliated with the University can use the University’s enterprise ArcGIS Online site for creating and hosting data, maps, applications, and more.

  1. Go to this page:
  2. Click University Of Virginia
  3. Login through Netbadge

That’s it! By logging in through Netbadge, your account has been created.

2. Listen to the podcast below!

Stone panel from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal (northern Iraq), 883-859 BC. British Museum

Stone panel from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal (northern Iraq), 883-859 BC. British Museum

You’ll hear a brief review of Thomas’s zooarch of animal care and then they discuss archaeological evidence for some of the earliest veterinarians in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.


Aiding and A-vetting: The Archaeology of Animal Care



3. Read carefully through the chart below.

infectious disease and archaeology through time

4. Reading Questions

Comprehension Questions

“The role of rodents in the disease ecology of the Roman city.” Emily Holt and Susan Palazzo, 2013

  • Which types of disease could have been spread by rodents and which had other vectors?
  • What special processes are necessary for recovering rodent bones archaeologically and what methods were used to recover 1508 rodent bones (and 43 minimum number of individuals, meaning they have a sample of at least 43 individual rodents)?
  • What are some of the limitations in identifying/analyzing rodent bones?
  • What are the differences between house mice and wood mice (wild mice)?
  • How does seasonality influence the potential for rodents spreading disease in urban settings?

BONUS: Check out this short blog entry by a zooarchaeologist to see different rodent bones:  Bones That Look Like Other Bones: Rodent Week Edition

“Towards a Zooarchaeology of Animal “Care.”” Richard Thomas, 2016

  • Explain what Thomas means here: “Understanding spatial, temporal and social variation in attitudes towards animal “care” is an important line of enquiry, because it provides a powerful metonym for the contingent and changing human perceptions of animals, which in turn reflects upon how people perceived themselves as part of the experienced world” (pp. 170).
  • What are the challenges to studying paleopathology in animals? And why are pathologies often overlooked in faunal remains?
  • Which of the 5 “freedoms from” can be determined directly from animal bones? Which might be determine from circumstantial archaeological evidence? Which are near impossible to determine archaeologically?
  • How does Thomas differentiate between identifying the archaeology of abuse and archaeology therapeutic intervention?


Discussion Questions

Respond to one of the following questions below by 9:00 PM tonight (Tuesday)! Remember to press the “reply” button if someone has already responded.
  1. Why focus a whole day on the archaeology of animals in a class on the archaeology of health and disease?
  2. As archaeology students studying health and disease, explain the importance of understanding vectors and disease ecology. Click me and read if you’re unsure what exactly disease ecology means!
  3. Compare the archaeological study of the care of animals to the study of care of humans. How are they different and how are they similar?
  4. After looking at the table above, what patterns do you notice in the evolution of infectious disease? And what kind of specific data or archaeological sites have we already explored that can be associated with the 8 archaeological contexts listed?

25 comments on “INFECTIOUS DISEASE CONT. Tuesday, March 24th”

  1. Stephanie Reply

    Response to question 1: With the Neolithic Revolution and the domestication of animals, there was increased contact between animals and settled human populations. This increased interaction allowed for diseases that livestock carried to infect humans either through actual interaction with the animal or through contaminated food or water. These diseases, if highly infectious and humans had no immunity to it, could spread rapidly throughout a population and create an epidemic.

    • Jordan Schuck Reply

      I agree in that it is even seen today with many of the pandemics that have spread rapidly throughout different regions and the world have been zoonotic diseases which jumped from animals into humans whom have no natural immunity. This chance has grown as humans have increased their interaction with livestock as they breed, eat, and domesticate new species of animals. Increased domestication through the Neolithic Revolution also allowed for increased connections between different regions creating father reaching trade networks which spread more disease between groups of people. It also created a new need for medical care of those newly domesticated animals that had to be cared for in order to ensure certain livelihoods.

      • ban3rc Reply

        In response to question 1: The archaeology of animals is very much connected to the archaeology of health and disease in many ways. As seen in the Holt article, mice were assumed to spread diseases in ancient Rome to humans and were responsible for many deaths. Malaria along with the diseases that mice spread to humans brought death to many Romans. By studying the archaeology of animals and how they interacted, it can inform archaeologists how animals may have played a part in the spread of diseases to humans.

      • alf5tq Reply

        Referencing Jordan and Stephanie’s response to question 1, multiple things come to mind from the evolution of human disease chart and the Archaeology of Animal Care podcast. On an abstract level exposure to organisms in general leads to a form of contamination manifested as illness; in reference to the chart, at the time of the development of cities boosted by river location and irrigation systems, humans suffered from Schistosomiasis. This disease occurred due to the contact the humans had with the schistosomes, a type of worm. Similarly, Trypanosomiasis came about due to infection by tetse flies, and Onchocerciasis came about by repeated bites from infected flies. It is not enough though that these organisms infect humans as they congregate in larger groups, but even large or small groups separated by a vast amount of space, which could have protected them from foreign organisms/microorganisms, begin to come into contact. According to the podcast, there is evidence that donkeys were highly revered creatures with high status burials near the king of early Egypt. These animals were prized for their ability to transverse long distances with little water and vegetation, and thus they made trade- and contact in general- possible. In short, over time humans have come more and more into contact with other animals as well as other groups of humans with their own specialized contact (and immunity) with animals, and this understanding is necessary in order to see how disease can move between populations and even asymptomatic carriers.

        • Julia Reply

          These responses are great–I think it is clear to you all that environment matters! Density, proximity, interaction, mobility etc. I have nothing else to add :-).

  2. ach4ub Reply

    Animals can play an enormous part in the spread of disease. Since the introduction to domestication of animals there have been many new diseases that affect humans. This is why it is important to study the health of animals and their relationship to humans. Diseases like black plague, mad cow, malaria, etc. all come from animals and effect humans. If we study how these diseases might have affected animals in the past, we can learn more about the diseases themselves and how they might have been historically understood and treated.

  3. mmh4ua Reply

    In a class focused on the archaeology of health and disease it is important to spend time on the archaeology of animals. As we have covered in previous classes, the rise of infectious diseases closely follows the domestication of animals. Understanding past human-animal relationships can help us understand how diseases erupted, figure out patterns that we can then apply to modern day/learn from mistakes, and also learn about the positive influence of living among domesticated animals.

  4. Christy Audeh Reply

    Response to question 4: The evolution of infectious disease very much mirrors the events understood from the archaeological record. As animals became domesticated and people were spending more time around them, diseases carried by these animals became more likely to infect humans. As cities became more developed and population increased, diseases were less likely to be contained, thus progressing toward the epidemics shown. Pandemics arose as people began to travel between nations, as well as when trade became an international ordeal. In the Soren article we read last week in which the author discusses how evidence for malaria can appear in the archaeological record, the site describes the remains of infants. The site dates back to the 5th century, which is when the domestication of livestock and the development of major cities and irrigation systems which likely would have been already established. From this development, population sizes likely would have been much higher and capable of sustaining epidemics. While malaria isn’t usually transmitted from person to person, with larger populations, the vectors of the disease–mosquitoes–would be able to infect more people, leading to an epidemic.

    • egt9cp Reply

      In general, from the table it seems as if the more “civilized” we have become the more subject we are to pandemic diseases. This seems somewhat counter intuitive to what we normally associate with the development of civilizations. Even as life became more complex, the increase in population size of settlements meant that diseases could spread to many more people and inflict more harm. Then, as theses once separate populations became more interconnected through trade, the range of contagious diseases also increased. It is not until the development of modern health care and discovery of microbes that these pandemics could be combated. Today, contagion has largely been replaced with pandemics brought about by life style choices that are in-congruent with the needs the human body evolved with. The article regarding the use of stones in relation to fairy magic demonstrates the lack of modern understanding of disease that would have contributed to the unchecked spread of viral and bacterial diseases. When someone became ill it was seen as an affliction caused by a spirit rather than a microbial vector.

      • Olivia Reply

        As Christy said above for question 4, the changes in human infectious disease have been directly related to changes in human society. Infectious organisms have evolved to fill niches as they become available, resulting in shifting patterns of prevalence dependent on what sort of disease is most fit to thrive in any given context. Where malaria arose with the development of farming in tropical West Africa and has remained prevalent as long as areas continue to support large mosquito populations, respiratory diseases like influenza became especially widespread in developed areas even as other diseases were reduced by improved public sanitation. Holt and Palazzo exemplified this really well in their chapter about rodents and infectious disease in Ancient Rome; when weather conditions supported a large population of active rodents, there were thought to be more cases of malaria, which made the Romans more susceptible to other diseases and contributed to the spike in deaths observed in early autumn each year. Understanding how infectious disease can and will arise when environmental circumstances are right can help us understand how they have influenced (and continue to influence) human behavior.

    • Michael Minson Reply

      It also seems as time passed, the diseases which humans became subject to, grew in severity. The increase in population density and mobility allowed for disease to spread more rapidly, but what I find most interesting is the adaptation of these diseases. Were they always present in nature, but simply required a larger population to spread at an effective rate or did they develop alongside population increase?

    • ak4pw Reply

      With every introduced interrelation of animals or humans with other humans populations, a disease epidemic seems to have risen. The table, however, shows that with every new connection, a new disease epidemic is then introduced. Even though many times we think of advanced civilizations as more healthy and free of disease, in some cases, it was these civilizations that the pandemic originated from, such as syphilis pandemic and European diseases in 450 BP. Based on the table, most disease outbreaks seem to have originated from domestic or wildlife animals or urbanization of cities. Thus, we see the extreme importance of animal archaeology and the importance of its connections with historical disease outbreaks. In Currie’s article about the Ecuadorian Andes, the archaeology of animal care could provide connections for diseases that took place in historical data.

    • sy9yr Reply

      I totally agree with your statement about domestication. It is evident that evolution plays an important role in the emergence of many new infectious diseases. Also, I think one example of evolution can be considered as ecological changes such as agricultural and economic development. On the table, we can see positive relationships between the advent of new events and infectious diseases. New events are development of farming and cities, Columbian exchange, or domestication of livestock. We can assume that domesticated animals provide link to emergence of new diseases. New pathogens tend to emerge from animals when ecological changes increase the pathogen’s opportunities to enter the human population and to generate subsequent human-to-human transmission.

  5. alh5wp Reply

    Question 1: It is especially important, I believe, that we are learning about the connection between animals and disease today as our current situation with coronavirus originates from an animal origin. Just as Holt and Palazzo mention how rats and mice are vectors for many diseases, bats, chickens, and swine have also been seen to cause several world pandemics. The Bubonic Plague was known to come from the rat and rat flea, bird flu, swine flu, and now coronavirus which is believed to have come from bats all have animal reservoirs. We need to learn from past history of other similar outbreaks so that we can start preventing pandemics from occurring in the first place. We live in close proximity to so many of these disease-carrying animals that it sometimes is out of our control, but certain hygienic measures can be taken, especially in the wet/live animal markets where we have seen SARS and coronavirus emerge from.

    • Julia Reply

      Jordan S and Autumn H’s comments made me realize how we might consider bring together these two rather different articles on zooarchaeology… if we cared more deeply for animals–domesticated animals we are directly responsible for caring for, wild animals who need robust and sufficiently large habitats, and everyone in between, such as commensal house mice–following the 5 “freedoms from” perhaps it would minimize risk of disease transfer and, as Autumn mentions, prevent disease from becoming pandemics in the first place?

      Don’t forget to include which question you’re addressing!

  6. jes2ex Reply

    Response to question 3: Both the archaeological study of the care of animals and the study of care of humans use lesions on bones to identify evidence for diseases and for care, or lack or care, the individual received. In both the archaeological study of the care of animals and humans other causes must be roled out for the cause of a lesion before making a final determination in what caused it. Animal bones are harder to study than human bones because they are often broken down or more fragmented. There is also usually a lack of clinical evidence for animal lesions due to most animals dying or being put down before the disease spreads to their skeleton and the lack of interest of clinicians in diseases of livestock that do not effect productivity. When doing the archaeological study of the care of animals and humans it is important to reflect on and be conscious of that when we judge the quality and type of care a person/animal receives we are using our own culturally-situated perspective.

    • ysp5zp Reply

      Yes! I thought the similarities in analyzing the level of care received between animals and humans were very interesting. Especially how Thomas used enamel hypoplasia as evidence for freedom #1: Freedom from hunger. I remember talking about hypoplasia in human teeth and how it indicates that the individual was not cared for because it is caused by dietary deficiencies. However, as you have already stated, animals are not usually given a proper burial that provides obstacles, unlike human bones which are preserved relatively well because of proper burials.

    • kcs2es Reply

      Question 3:

      I also thought that it was interesting to learn about the different burials that they have found in animals. For instance, the burial of the 10 (?) donkeys that were buried like royals in comparison to the burial of the cow with a calf still in the birth canal as talked about in the podcast. I think this is very comparable to the differences in burial practices that we have studied in humans. Also as mentioned above, the study of the lesions on bones in animals and humans to determine the health of the individual and the care they received. However, there are obviously differences as some animals were just used as farm animals for consumption or to help with farm work, then some others, such as dogs, were just used as pets. This would effect how the animals were buried, the extent to which the remains were preserved, among other things while humans were generally buried to specific burial rituals that preserved the remains somewhat better.

    • sns2fj Reply

      In response to question 3, I found that while they differ, evidence of the care of animals and the care of humans often reflects the ideas that civilization might have had about health, well-being, and daily life values. Similar to how children were stacked up in a vertical grave as described in last week’s readings, the same was done when an epidemic ravaged Medieval Cambridgeshire as described in the Thomas reading. Study of infectious disease in both, and proper disposal of bodies to protect the living were similar in both cases. I thought it was also interesting that in humans, pain is clear and communicable through shared language, and even in the absence of language, people of ancient civilizations were sensitive to the prospect of valued animals experiencing pain and made attempts to alleviate it — i.e. bandages, fracture settings, etc.

  7. Emily Tillet Reply

    Response to question 2: along with biotic/population factors that may change disease ecology (ex: population growth, migration, poor hygiene), abiotic or secondary factors also hold heavy influence. A disease may seem to have randomly increased in frequency but there may be many invisible factors at play, one of which being the changing vector population. It is impossible to get the whole picture of a disease without understanding how it is transmitted and how environment may impact disease progression and narrative.

  8. Tina Pham Reply

    Comment on “Evolution of infectious disease” table: The developments between 6 million to 450 bp were to be expected where as communities became denser with more humans and animals, the transmission of infectious diseases went up; however, what I thought was interesting was how human population reached a level that could sustain epidemics around 6000-3000 bp, but the first pandemic recorded was 2500 bp when inter-continental trade flowered and pandemics occurred more frequently during the columbian exchange in the 1600s CE / 450 bp. Though the increased population density that resulted from the Neolithic Revolution increased the spread of disease, pandemics started occurring when long-distance trading was introduced, so would it be correct to assume that movement is a bigger factor in spreading disease than population density?

    • sb3dd Reply

      Question 4 continuation: If you look at the current outbreak of COVID-19, while population density plays a large role in the number of people affected in a community, movement allows the virus to spread from one community to another. (hence why social distancing is important!) The textbook definition of a pandemic is a disease that affects people across many continents so I think that before 2500 bp, outbreaks managed to affect many people of the same population, but weren’t able to spread the way diseases can now. (due to travel etc.) To further answer the question asked, we discussed diseases (bone and trauma related) that affected early Chinese and Vietnamese agricultural communities. We talked about the way the New World’s “discovery” of the Old World led to the deaths of many Native Americans (to smallpox etc). We also discussed malaria in the Roman times, and the bone diseases that affected early settler communities. (in catalhyuk for example) In the past, we also talked about the use of antibiotics and home remedies in the current times. (in relation to slavery and new healing practices)

    • Julia Reply

      Great reading of the chart, Tina! I don’ t think it is a matter of which is a bigger factor but rather a question of scale. Are you measuring spread over the number of people or over distance?
      If you’ve got a large, yet self contained population the disease could spread through the entire population (i.e. NYC right now). As Simran notes below, pandemic typically refers to a wide GEOGRAPHIC spread of a disease- so the spread of a disease over multiple subcontinents (i.e. C-19 exists on all continents at this point, though maybe research scientists based on Antarctica have been spared?)
      For example, if you have lots of interaction, but small and dispersed population centers an epidemic might not last as long, because there are fewer overall hosts available.

  9. aw7dd Reply

    I think it is important to focus on animals when talking about health and disease for many reason. One being how essential they are to most of our lives. Also, being how big their presence is on earth can lead to the widespread of many diseases. They play a role in the transformation of disease over time especially for humans who are historically omnivores. Animals can help archeologists determine a time period through excavations and how they may be preserved as well.

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