Sew this awesome quilted bubonic plague doctor's mask

Take inspiration from a historical pandemic and make yourself this incredible beaked pieced-and-quilted mask, reminiscent of the kind doctors supposedly wore during the 14th century to treat bubonic plague patients. Theirs were stuffed with aromatic herbs, thought to stave off the "bad air." Yours doesn't need mint, lavender or anything like that, just a combination of interesting fabrics. It also requires a fair amount of patience and sewing skills to complete. Full instructions are available through its creator, Sara of the Tumblr suntree a-ok:

No one needs to use 44 bits of fabric to make a mask. It is dumb and fun and absurd. The difficulty is the point.

She's also made a single-fabric version.


images via suntree a-ok, used with permission Read the rest

Annalee Newitz looks at the Great Plague of London and 17th century social distancing

Annalee Newitz has a piece in The New York Times about the "Great Plague" of London (1665-1666)--the last outbreak of bubonic plague in England--which ended up taking the lives of almost a quarter of the city's population.

A lot of English people believed 1666 would be the year of the apocalypse. You can’t really blame them. In late spring 1665, bubonic plague began to eat away at London’s population. By fall, roughly 7,000 people were dying every week in the city. The plague lasted through most of 1666, ultimately killing about 100,000 people in London alone — and possibly as many as three-quarters of a million in England as a whole.


It felt like Armageddon. And yet it was also the beginning of a scientific renaissance in England, when doctors experimented with quarantines, sterilization and social distancing. For those of us living through these stay-at-home days of Covid-19, it’s useful to look back and see how much has changed — and how much hasn’t. Humanity has been guarding against plagues and surviving them for thousands of years, and we have managed to learn a lot along the way.


It was most likely thanks to his [King Charles II] interest in science that government representatives and doctors quickly used social distancing methods for containing the spread of bubonic plague. Charles II issued a formal order in 1666 that ordered a halt to all public gatherings, including funerals. Already, theaters had been shut down in London, and licensing curtailed for new pubs.

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Now the prairie dogs are out to get us

I think it's fair to say at this point that the earth is rising up in self defense and will soon devour every last one of us. Read the rest

Shedding light on the Black Death

Seven hundred years ago, millions of Europeans were wiped out by a disease we still don’t entirely understand. The Black Death might seem like a pretty open-and-shut case at this point: It was caused by plague-bearing fleas that hitched rides on the rats that infested a grim and grimy medieval world. The End.

But that simplified version only makes sense if you overlook some important facts about how the plague (which still exists) operates today. “The Black Death killed between 30 and 50 percent of the affected population,” says Sharon DeWitte, assistant professor of anthropology and biology at The University of South Carolina. “Modern plague, at most, kills between 2 and 3 percent, and that’s even in areas without access to modern medicine.”

What’s more, DeWitte says, recorded symptoms from the Black Death don’t entirely match up with those of modern plague. And the Black Death seems to have spread through populations faster and killed much faster than its modern cousin. The differences are striking enough that some scientists, including DeWitte at one point, have suspected that the Black Death might not have been caused by plague at all. But genomic reconstructions of ancient DNA suggest the two are one. So what changed? Ultimately, that’s the question that makes last month’s discovery of a new Black Death cemetery in London so important. Read the rest