Scientists Blame Gerbils (Not Rats) for the Black Death — History in the Headlines

February 25, 2015 7:23 PM

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In the new study, researchers from the University of Oslo analyzed climate data going back to the 14th century, looking for information about the weather conditions that coincided with outbreaks of the bubonic plague, or Black Death. Specifically, the scientists analyzed tree-ring records from Europe and compared them with 7,711 historical plague outbreaks. Their findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, contradict the commonly held belief that rats hosted the disease-carrying fleas responsible for causing plague outbreaks.

Nils Christian Stenseth, one of the study’s authors, told BBC News that in order for the weather to be optimum for an outbreak caused by flea-infested rats, “[Y]ou would need warm summers, with not too much precipitation. Dry but not too dry.” This was not the case, Stenseth says; according to him, ...

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