Plague
Infectious Diseases


 

Mass Plague Graves Found on Venice "Quarantine" Island

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An aerial view shows Lazzaretto Vecchio, a island south of Italy's Venetian Island, in a photograph recently released to National Geographic News. (See map of Italy).

Ancient mass graves containing skeletons of more than 1,500 bubonic plague victims have been found on the small island. Some of the graves date back to the end of the 15th century.

Plague outbreaks decimated Venice, as well as much of Europe, throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. The plague was spread by fleas, which often fed on infected rats, and then bit people.

The island may represent the world's first "lazaret"a quarantine colony for people with infectious diseases.

A satellite image shows the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio (yellow square), south of the Italy's Venetian Lagoon.

More than 1,500 victims of the bubonic plague have been found the island, what may be the world's first lazaret, a disease quarantine colony.

The lazaret concept began in 1845 when a devastating plague hit Venice. Venice's government built a public hospital on Lazzaretto Vecchio to isolate the infection and curb the disease's spread.

At the time the island was named Santa Maria di Nazareth, but people also called it Nazarethum or Lazaretum. The second name prevailed and eventually gave rise to the modern word "lazaret".

Skeletons of ancient plague victims lie in a grave on the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio, south of the Venetian Lagoon in Italy.

The skeletons were first discovered three years ago when workers digging the foundation for Venice Town's Museum on the eastern side of the island came across hundreds of well-preserved human skeletons.

The island, located a couple of kilometers from Venice's famed Piazza San Marco, might be the world's first lazaret, or quarantine colony.

"When plague struck the town throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, everybody sick or showing any suspect symptom were restricted on the island, until they recovered or died," Luisa Gambaro, an anthropologist of the University of Padua told National Geographic News.

Archaeologists work at a mass grave containing skeletons of victims of the bubonic plague on the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio, south of Italy's Venice Lagoon.

"In the last three years we collected more than 1,500 corpses and 150 boxes of artifacts," Vincenzo Gobbo, an archaeologist at the University Ca' Foscari of Venice, told National Geographic News. "We estimate there are still thousands of skeletons buried beneath every meadow in Lazzaretto Vecchio."

Researchers from across Italy will study the remains to learn more about society and everyday life in medieval and Renaissance Venice.

Archaeologists work at a mass grave containing skeletons of victims of the bubonic plague on the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio, south of Italy's Venice Lagoon.

"In the last three years we collected more than 1,500 corpses and 150 boxes of artifacts," Vincenzo Gobbo, an archaeologist at the University Ca' Foscari of Venice, told National Geographic News. "We estimate there are still thousands of skeletons buried beneath every meadow in Lazzaretto Vecchio."

Researchers from across Italy will study the remains to learn more about society and everyday life in medieval and Renaissance Venice.

Skeletons of bubonic plague victims lie in a mass grave on the island of Lazzaretto Vecchio, south of Italy's Venetian Lagoon.

When plague struck Venice in the 15th and 16th centuries, everybody sick or showing any suspect symptoms were restricted on the island until they recovered or died.

"Nobles or lower class didn't make any difference," said Luisa Gambaro, an anthropologist of the University of Padua. "All the sick were forced to stay on Lazzaretto Vecchio, and if they died, they were buried together."

Source:

  • National Geographic News - http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/08/070829-venice-plague.html. All rights reserved.

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Created: Thursday, August 30, 2007: Last Updated: Thursday, December 20, 2012
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