My 2017 A to Z Challenge theme is “The History of Kanata”, the parallel world that is the setting for “Eagle Passage”, my alternative history novel that all began when I wondered, “What would have happened if Leif Eriksson had settled Vinland permanently in 1000 AD? For further details and links to my other A to Z posts – and hints at the ones to come visit “Kanata – A to Z Challenge 2017”.
P is for Plague: 15 July 1350 – Fannar Ingolfsson, a Migisi Rederi merchant, is delivering a cargo of timber to Hellnar in Iceland when he meets a Sámi wise man, Rástoš Dávgon. Rástoš warns him that a deadly plague is sweeping through Europe, including Scandinavia. European ‘scientific’ experts are blaming a conjunction of three planets, while other Christians are persecuting groups like the Jews for this evil. However, nothing has halted the disease. But from all he has gleaned from reports and observations, it spread from across central Asia, fed by the unsanitary conditions in the cities. He believes that other creatures can carry the disease, especially dogs and rats. Fortunately, cold conditions and isolation hinder the ‘black death’, and Iceland has been spared so far
Fannar recognises that Rástoš is a shaman, so as a follower of the old religion he asks if the spirits have told him what to do. The shaman has been directed to help Kanata as their people could be most vulnerable, although the mix of Norse blood and indigenous carries a valuable essence that will save them. He has already told those that will listen that cleanliness is crucial, bodies must be burnt by fire, although without sacrificing precious timber. Finally, stray animals of all types must be destroyed. Fannar adds that rats use mooring ropes to enter ships so the crews of all ships, especially fellow merchants, must be vigilant.
Rástoš sails with Fannar back to Kanata to alert and prepare the people in the Americas.
World distribution of plague, 1998. from U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public domain.
In our timeline: The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia and peaking in Europe in the years 1346–1353. The plague probably originated in Central Asia and travelled along the trade routes. Unsanitary conditions in Europe saw repeated outbreaks through to the 17th century, including in Iceland.
Burning bodies, controlling rodents and stray dogs, sanitation and cleanliness were rarely seen as solutions when it was easier to blame others or devils, and bury the dead or leave them rotting so scavengers could spread the disease further. Even the idea that cold or even freezing conditions can hinder or stop the disease is recent. Although there are some treatments for ‘plague’, including insecticides and a moderately effective vaccine, there are places that are still having outbreaks. Plague hovers in the shadows by many accounts: “The thought of another worldwide pandemic of Plague that is resistant to modern medical treatment boggles the mind.”
The plague was only one of the diseases that devastated the indigenous population of the Americas. The genetic makeup of Europeans made them less susceptible to other diseases, such as smallpox, and a greater percentage of them could develop immunity. The Native Americans were from a smaller gene pool. Another factor was that the indigenous people had not domesticated animals in such an extensive way as Europeans – domesticated animals were disease carriers, but also ironically one source of vaccines.
Would more of the indigenous population of the Americas have survived the diseases if they were prepared? Would the earlier introduction of European genes, and domesticated animals have introduced a level of immunity?
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