Scientists working in China have recently linked climate conditions with outbreaks of the plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis. Plague bacteria is primarily spread by fleas that reside on rodents. During warm, wet months there is more vegetation growth which means an abundance food for rodents. More rodents means more fleas, hence greater spread of plague.
Yersinia pestisis the leading culprit in the Black Death, an epidemic that swept through Europe in the 14th century and ultimately killed 1/3 of the world’s population. The Black Death originated in China and made its way to Europe via traders – most famously when a ship filled with dead or dying men stricken by the plague landed in a Sicilian port in 1347. From there, the plague spread exponentially leaving a swath of death in its wake.
While the plague bacteria still exists today, it is largely controlled and treatable (if detected early). Additionally, better sanitation conditions help to keep the disease at bay. To read more about the new scientific determinations about the connection between weather conditions and the plague, read this article by Discovery News. If you would like to read more about the Chinese origins of the Bubonic Plague, read this article by Discovery News.
People do not normally think that museums and curators face ethical dilemmas in their field (after all, the people involved are long dead), but the very real implications of looting (the ownership of antiquities, its relationship to black market trades, and the viability of the field) are the realities of modern curating. One need only look at the recent legal battles of Marion True, the former curator of the Getty, to see that this is a very real issue for modern museums.
In many cases, the definition of looting is clear cut in terms of international law (with a few, notable, controversial exceptions such as the Parthenon Marbles). UNESCO has worked hard to define the rules and obligations of ownership and archaeologists working in foreign countries are well versed in the legalities involving their field. However, there is one last vestige of the days of legal treasure hunting and that is in the realm of nautical archaeology. International salvage laws and limitations of open ocean ‘ownership’ leaves the realm of underwater treasure hunting still a legal (and often a lucrative) method of acquiring antiquities.
Currently, the Smithsonian is debating an upcoming exhibit of Chinese artifacts that were procured through methods of treasure hunting. While the artifacts were procured in accordance with salvage laws, the ethical implications of displaying looted materials are obvious. You can read more about the Smithsonian’s ethical battles in this article.