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Om utbredelsen av rotter i Norge i middelalderen og tidlig nytid – kan rotter ha vært mellomverter for spredning av pestepidemier?

Lars Walløe, f. 1938, dr. med. 1968, professor i fysiologi ved Institutt for medisinske basalfag, Universitetet i Oslo.

Anne Karin Hufthammer, f. 1953, cand. real. 1982, førsteamanuensis ved De Naturhistoriske samlinger, Universitetet i Bergen.

  • Side: 29-44
  • Publisert på Idunn: 2010-04-13
  • Publisert: 2010-04-13

Artikkelen diskuterer den mulige utbredelsen av svart rotte i Norge i middelalderen og tidlig nytid. Både fysiologisk og adferdsøkologisk er svart rotte dårlig tilpasset liv i kaldt klima. Arkeologisk er bein av svart rotte bare påvist i kystbyene Bergen, Stavanger, Tønsberg, Oslo og Trondheim, og selv der bare i en liten del av utgravningene, mens andre små dyr er godt representert. Bein av rotte er ikke funnet ved utgravninger i Hamar eller i landdistrikter. Konklusjonen må bli at svart rotte ikke kan ha vært ansvarlig for spredning av pestepidemier over landdistriktene i Norge.

On the distribution of rats in Norway in medieval and early modern times. Could rats have been a vector species for the transmission of plague?

This paper discusses the introduction of the black rat (Rattus rattus) to Norway, and its distribution and population density. The study is based on older zoological literature, knowledge of rat ecology and physiology and, in particular, bone samples from archaeological excavations. Physiologically and ecologically, it is highly unlikely that the black rat could ever have lived in Norway outside heated houses. It is probably extinct in Norway now and has been rare in Scandinavia for at least 200–300 years. The oldest radiocarbon date from Norway (AD 1168–1276) is from Bergen. A slightly younger find (AD 1225–1385) from Tønsberg contains bones from both young and adult rats, probably from a nest, and proves that the black rat bred in Tønsberg in the Middle Ages. Other finds indicate that it also bred in Oslo, Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim. Only a few archaeological finds from these medieval towns contain large numbers of rat bones (the majority contain none), indicating a patchy distribution. Furthermore, the species is relatively rare in archaeological finds compared to other vertebrates of similar size, suggesting that black rat population density was never high in these Norwegian towns. There are no finds of black rat from the many archaeological excavations in rural areas, from the Viking Age trade centre Kaupang, or from the inland town of Hamar. This, combined with the low frequency of black rat finds in medieval towns, should be taken into account when discussing the spread of plague epidemics in the Middle Ages and later. The possibility that the Black Death was brought to the harbour towns of Oslo, Tønsberg, Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim by ship rats cannot be excluded, but it is extremely unlikely that rats accounted for the spread of plague to rural areas and inland.

Keywords: Black death, black rat, medieval plague, rat ecology
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