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Burial Seasonality and Causes of Death in London 1670-1819

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Recent discussions of urban mortality in early modern Europe have concentrated on mortality levels to the relative exclusion of cause-of-death patterns. These, it is often assumed, were dictated by certain characteristics of the urban environment, in particular the problems of waste disposal and water supply, and were thus dominated by water- and food-borne gastric diseases. The present study is based on an analysis of burial seasonality in the weekly London Bills of Mortality 1670-1819. Contrary to expectation substantial changes were observed in the seasonality of burials over this period. An initial pattern of excess summer mortality characteristic of gastric infection gave way, during the eighteenth century, to a winter peak of the kind generally associated with respiratory conditions and typhus, and similar to that observed in England as a whole. Some implications of this finding are considered, together with some possible explanations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University College London 2: Department of Anthropology, University College London

Publication date: March 1, 1988

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