One of the things I have always known about myself is that, if the apocalypse — or anything even resembling an apocalypse — comes, I will not survive. I have difficulty enduring gentle rains with equanimity. If anything more involved starts to fall from the sky — say, brimstone or frogs — or zombies descend or plague comes sweeping its ominous scythe through the land, well, it’s been nice knowing you, because I’m not going to make it.
I only mention this because Monday brought with it some lovely new plague skeletons, just unearthed in England as they try to make a new rail line. That is the trouble with England. There is too much History there. You can’t even put in a drain without disturbing something that’s been there since the 14th century.
These particular skeletons revealed a great deal of detail about the plague sufferers and the differing responses to the disease each time it swept through — first, orderly burials in a new patch of land, then, by the plague’s third pass through the area, signs of upper-body injuries consistent with days of chaos and panic. Also, we learned the fun fact that one of the plague victims became a vegetarian later in life, possibly because he joined a monastery.
But another question also has reared its ugly head: was the bubonic plague a bubonic plague at all? Or was it — as Dr. Tim Brooks suggests — in fact, a pneumonic plague, transferred from one person to the next by inhaling plague germs? We knew we were unjustly maligning the rats that the plague fleas rode in on. Were we unjustly maligning the fleas, too? Was the whole thing actually airborne?
The only thing more terrifying than regular Black Death is airborne Black Death. You can maybe sprint away from a plague-ridden flea, and you can certainly refrain from touching the buboes of your plague-afflicted companions. But you can’t outrun the air!
We’re going to keep learning as more results come in and the scientists who believe the plague was airborne will be making their case in more detail — they also analyzed some 1906 plague victims — but in the meantime, I will be sequestered in my apartment with all the Vitamin C I can carry, quietly and persistently dissolving all ties that might force me to interact with another human being.
On a related note, today is the last day to sign up for HealthCare.gov.