Category Archives: Wales

How the bubonic plague changed drinking habits


Engraving of a man drinking plague water during the 1665 London outbreak.
Wellcome Collection, CC BY-NC-SA

James Brown, University of SheffieldAlcohol deaths in England and Wales in 2020 were the highest for 20 years. The Office for National Statistics recorded 7,423 deaths from alcohol misuse, a 19.6% increase compared with 2019. Although this is likely to have many complex causes, data from Public Health England suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting lockdowns are at least partly responsible for the increase. Largely, the disruption of work and social routines have led to a surge of hazardous drinking within the home (with some fairly harrowing personal stories).

The Intoxicating Spaces project, of which I’m part, has been exploring how pandemics also influenced the use of intoxicants, including patterns of alcohol consumption, in the past. As part of this work, we’ve looked at how the successive bubonic plague outbreaks that gripped England, especially London, in the 17th century (1603, 1625, 1636 and 1665) wrought similar changes in people’s drinking habits.

Like today, these sudden and frightening outbreaks of disease restricted access to inns, taverns, alehouses and other public drinking places – the cornerstones of early-modern sociability. While never subject to wholesale closure, these environments were targeted by the equivalent of social distancing legislation. A 1665 London plague order, for example, identified “tippling in taverns, alehouses, coffee-houses, and cellars” as “the greatest occasion of dispersing the plague”, and imposed a 9pm curfew.

The extent to which these regulations altered 17th-century people’s relationship with alcohol is difficult to determine based on surviving information. However, anecdotal evidence suggests there might have been a comparable shift towards drinking at home.

In his classic 1722 meditation on the 1665 London outbreak Due Preparations for the Plague, Daniel Defoe told the story of a London grocer who voluntarily quarantined himself and his family in their home for the duration of the pandemic. Among the provisions he assembled were 12 hogsheads of beer; casks and rundlets containing four varieties of wine (canary, malmsey, sack and tent; 16 gallons of brandy; and “many sorts of distill’d waters” (spirits).

Painting of two men standing outside a tavern while a plague cart goes by.
A painting of a quarantined house during the 1665 London plague outbreak, with the signboards of public houses visible in the background.
Wellcome Collection, CC BY-SA

According to Defoe, this impressive stockpile was not gratuitous but “necessary supplies”. This is because, surprisingly from the perspective of today’s public health messaging, in this period alcohol was thought to have had medicinal value and its moderate consumption during plague outbreaks was actively encouraged.

Doctor’s orders

Contemporary doctors and medical writers believed alcohol worked as a plague preventatives, in two main ways.

First, the consumption of beers, wines and spirits was believed to strengthen the body’s key defensive organs of the brain, heart and liver. They were especially beneficial when taken first thing in the morning, with many commentators recommending fortifying liquid plague breakfasts.

In his 1665 plague treatise, Medela Pestilentiae, minister and medical writer Richard Kephale claimed that it’s good “to drink a pint of maligo [Malaga wine or port] in the morning against the infection”. (He was also effusive on “the inexpressible virtues of tobacco”.) Many recipes for the popular “preventative” and “cure” plague water invariably contain wine and spirits, as well as pharmaceutical herbs.

Second, and perhaps more significantly, moderate drinking was believed to ward off those fearful mental states that induced melancholy (early modern terminology for depression), which was thought to make people more vulnerable to contracting the plague.

As Defoe put it, the grocer’s liquor hoard was not for his and his family’s “mirth or plentiful drinking”, but rather “so as not to suffer their spirits to sink or be dejected, as on such melancholy occasions they might be supposed to do”. Likewise, in his 1665 plague treatise, Zenexton Ante-Pestilentiale, physician William Simpson advocated the “drinking of good wholesome well-spirited liquor” to “make the heart merry” and “cause cheerfulness”. This would banish “many enormous ideas of fear, hatred, anxiousness, sorrow, and other perplexing thoughts”, and thereby “fortify the balsam of life against all infectious breaths”.

Engaraving of plague ridden street.
Engraving of the 1665 London outbreak.
Wellcome Collection., CC BY-NC-SA

The key thing for all of these writers was alcohol “moderately taken”. Excessive drinking to the point of drunkenness was still cautioned against, and “living with temperance upon a good generous diet” (in the words of one author) remained the baseline for most plague medicine.

However, then as now, it’s likely that the disruption of patterns of labour and leisure, along with the daily anxieties of living in a plague-stricken city, drove many to the psychological consolations of the bottle on a more dangerous and habitual basis. In A Journal of the Plague Year – Defoe’s other, more celebrated novel about the 1665 London outbreak – he tells the story of a physician who kept his “spirits always high and hot with cordials and wine”. But “could not leave them off when the infection was quite gone, and so became a sot for all his life after”.The Conversation

James Brown, Research Associate & Project Manager (UK), University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Bronze Age discovery reveals surprising extent of Britain’s trade with Europe 3,600 years ago



© Great Orme Mines Ltd

Alan Williams, University of Liverpool

Britain’s wrestling with the scope of its future trade links with Europe may seem a very modern phenomenon. But early trade between Britain and Europe was much more widespread than previously thought. Our new research reveals remarkable evidence of a copper-mining bonanza in Wales 3,600 years ago that was so productive that the metal reached France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

Understanding Britain during the Bronze Age (c.2,400-800BC) relies entirely on archaeological research. During this period, agricultural communities combined stock rearing with cereal cultivation. While they constructed numerous circular monuments, evidence for settlement is generally scarce before 1,500BC and on a small scale. Despite this somewhat insular vision of scattered farming communities, there is growing evidence of strong trade or exchange links with continental Europe. What the nature of these contacts were, in a pre-monetary economy, remain a matter of debate.

Copper objects (daggers, axes) first appeared in Britain around 2,400BC and were associated with people arriving from continental Europe. According to recent DNA studies, these arrivals eventually replaced most of the preexisting Neolithic population over the following centuries.

Britain’s copper supplies initially came mostly from southwest Ireland – Ross Island. As this source became exhausted, around 1,900BC, however, small mines opened in Wales and central northwest England. Production in these mines was relatively small, and had to be supplemented with metal from the continent.

Palstave axe found near the Great Orme. It is a type associated with Great Orme metal.
© Great Orme Mines, Author provided

This all radically changed around 1,700BC, with the discovery of the exceptionally rich copper ores of the Great Orme mine on the north Wales coast. This was one of the largest Bronze Age copper mines in Europe. Probably in response to the sheer richness and easily-worked nature of the Great Orme ores, all the other copper mines in Britain had closed by 1,600BC. The Great Orme mine met an increasing demand for metalwork of all types (axes, spearheads, rapiers).

Great Orme

Until recently, it was thought that the Great Orme mine was only large in size due to nearly a thousand years of small-scale seasonal working. This assertion was based on claims that the mine only produced high purity copper, which is uncommon in the artefacts of that period.

But our new research, which combines archaeological and geological expertise with the latest scientific analytical techniques, reveals a radically different picture. Extensive sampling of ores throughout the kilometres of Bronze Age workings, along with associated bronze tool fragments and copper from a nearby smelting site, have allowed “fingerprinting” of the mine metal based on chemical impurities and isotopic properties.

Distribution map of bronze objects (palstave axes) that are thought to be linked to Great Orme copper.
© R.A.Williams, Author provided

The surprising results revealed a distinctive metal rich in nickel and arsenic impurities and, combined with its isotopic “signature”, closely matched the metal type that dominated Britain’s copper supply for a 200-year period (c.1600-1400BC) in the Bronze Age. Remarkably, this metal is also found in bronze artefacts across parts of Europe, stretching from Brittany to the Baltic.

This very extensive distribution suggests a large-scale mining operation (in Bronze Age terms), with a full-time mining community possibly supported or controlled by farming communities in the adjacent agriculturally richer area of northeast Wales, where there are signs of wealth and hierarchy in grave goods. Geological estimates suggest that several hundred tons of copper metal were produced. This would have been enough to produce thousands of bronze tools or weapons every year, equivalent to at least half a million objects in the 200-year period.

When the mining boom turned to bust by around 1,400BC, the distinctive Great Orme metal gradually disappears. This major decline was probably due to the exhaustion of the richly mineralised central area of the mine that corresponds today to an impressive manmade underground cavern and an extensive deep area of surface mining (possibly a collapsed cavern). Both of these can be seen at the mine visitor centre. The bonanza was followed by a twilight period of many centuries, when all that remained were narrow ore veins that required a huge effort for a small output and probably only satisfied local needs.

Aerial view of the Great Orme Bronze Age mine site above Llandudno.
© Great Orme Mines, Author provided

Bronze Age trade

Tracing the metal from the extraordinary 200-year copper boom across Britain and into continental Europe suggests that Britain was much more integrated into European Bronze Age trade networks than had previously been thought. This is reinforced by fascinating new isotopic evidence from other researchers suggesting that the copper replacing that from Great Orme may have come from the Eastern Italian Alps, which would further extend the long-distance trade networks.

The next big challenge is to understand how important the exceptionally rich British tin deposits in Cornwall and Devon were in enabling the complete changeover from copper to bronze (10% tin, 90% copper), not only in Britain (c. 2,100BC) but also across Europe and beyond, where tin is very scarce. Researchers in Germany recently suggested a link between Bronze Age Israeli tin ingots and European tin deposits, rather than Central Asian deposits, and tentatively suggested a source in Cornwall, although much more research is required.

So we now have increasing evidence that Britain’s trade with continental Europe – although currently turbulent – has deep roots that go back several thousand years.The Conversation

Alan Williams, Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Article: Wales – Tomb of Early Britons Found


The link below is to an article concerning an archaeological dig in Wales that may unearth the tomb of early Britons.

For more, visit:
http://www.sci-tech-today.com/news/Ancient-Tomb-May-Hold-Early-Britons/story.xhtml?story_id=0220026MAXSU


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