September 29, 2014 11:09 AM   Subscribe

Alison Atkin is a Ph.D. student in osteoarchaeology at the University of Sheffield, studying plague cemeteries. Her research is presented in this quirky, hand-drawn poster. Don't miss GIFs of the interactive panels at her blog, Deathsplanation.
posted by Rumple (22 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I love this. It's super easy to grasp, even though I'm sure the actual research would be completely inexplicable to me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:18 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing I've envied about Europe/UK is their easy access to old and new mass graves. Very nice work!
posted by Renoroc at 11:20 AM on September 29, 2014

A word I had not seen before... inhumation.

Reserved as the title of my next horror movie.
posted by superelastic at 11:26 AM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pity the research isn't more conclusive.
posted by Segundus at 11:38 AM on September 29, 2014

I always enjoy well-written science!
posted by rebent at 11:42 AM on September 29, 2014

One thing I've envied about Europe/UK is their easy access to old and new mass graves.

What is "Words that should never appear on an eHarmony profile"?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:58 AM on September 29, 2014 [10 favorites]

posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:59 AM on September 29, 2014

Pity the research isn't more conclusive.

But it is! I thought that was the point, that she reached an unexpected conclusion which, while not what she was looking for, had exciting implications.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:03 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Fascinating and certainly has implications, but not conclusive if I understand it right. Her amusing flow chart makes that even clearer than the poster. Her unexpected conclusion was that she can't tell if there are black death victims in any given cemetery covering the time period in question (where she had thought that it would have been more obvious if there were or weren't). Right?
posted by Wretch729 at 12:09 PM on September 29, 2014

This was really cool ... I mean imagine a world with 40% population dying catastrophic deaths still looks similar to a world with attritional deaths.

If her models are right, it kinda implies that catastrophic deaths were regular. I wonder if she is suggesting that there was always some deadly epidemic going around.

I wonder if people changed their behavior much during the time of plague.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 12:11 PM on September 29, 2014

I think she says that she cant confirm that there are no black death victims in a cemetery because all cemeteries would look like what they (today) look like if there were epidemics all the time.

If I understood correctly, there is a good chance that the non-plague cemeteries which we use as baseline for comparing the mortality profiles had lots of deaths due to other epidemics ... hence, we might not have the right baseline profile which shows a cemetery with only attritional deaths.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 12:18 PM on September 29, 2014

The style of this reminds me a lot of how the Magic School Bus presents information, with the way she handles asides and makes little jokes and stuff. It's also super interesting!

"Deathsplaining" sounds like the patronizing method that vampires use to talk to mortals about life experiences that they think they will never have, though.
posted by NoraReed at 12:27 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

That was fun! My next band name will be "Plague-y vs. Not-So-Plague-y".

So, basically, lots of people dying of stuff all the damn time?
posted by jillithd at 12:47 PM on September 29, 2014

I liked this a lot—it's educational (I learned something!) and fun ("Nooooo! I know my model includes plague victims. I killed them!"). Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 1:13 PM on September 29, 2014

What if you run the model on a cemetery with documentary evidence (say covering the Spanish Flu epidemic or WW1 or Cambodia) and see how they look?
That would test against the risk of multiple catastrophic events adding noise.
All the same, this is good science as the conclusion differs from the hypothesis, which is nice as it proves it was worth the effort!
posted by bystander at 3:04 PM on September 29, 2014

I want all of history and science explained in this format.

I'll wait right here while the internet works on that for me.
posted by bunderful at 6:08 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

That was fantastic. Thank you for posting!
posted by latkes at 7:16 PM on September 29, 2014

I like the obvious Portal reference.
posted by ZaneJ. at 8:23 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

The interesting thing that came out of the research is that it neatly disposes of the "where are the plague victims?" problem. It turns out that there isn't a problem, her models show that you wouldn't expect to be able to see the signal of mass deaths in the osteo-archaeological record which means that the mystery of where all those bodies were buried is solved.
posted by atrazine at 8:05 AM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is somewhat related, a lighthearted way to present something about the research process most scientists are familiar with...
posted by Rumple at 9:44 AM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Now I'm worried about catching the mysterious sweating sickness.
posted by Monochrome at 11:01 AM on October 4, 2014

Here's another commentary on this poster with some interesting critique and praise.
posted by Rumple at 1:34 PM on October 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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