The grins of Anglo-Saxon children might seem like something fleeting and insignificant, but they actually give us a considerable insight into modern health.
By analysing the dentine in the milk teeth of Anglo-Saxon children, whose skeletons have been found in a 10th Century excavation site in Northamptonshire, scientists were able to gain a reliable indicator of the effects of diet and health, on both infants and their mothers.
The children were found to have had limited bone growth, as a result of being undernourished, and thus limited evidence was available from analysis of their bones alone. Teeth, however, continue to grow under the effects of stress and starvation, so act as an accurate archive for researchers.
The American Journal of Physical Anthropology describes how the development of these excavated child skeletons can be observed from the third trimester of pregnancy onwards. This analysis is the first instance of secure and measurable in utero data from the Anglo-Saxon period. Researchers from the University of Bradford investigated how the high-risk period of the 1,000 days post-conception significantly influences later health.
Dr Julia Beaumont, a specialist in Archaeological and Forensic Sciences at the University of Bradford, believes that these new findings, about the importance of the three-year period from conception, have a direct impact on the way we use modern medicine. She describes these crucial early days as acting as a ‘template’ for later life, determining the likelihood of a person to develop conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
By studying the milk teeth of modern children in the same way as those from Middle Age skeletons, experts find ways to mitigate risks from lifestyle induced diseases. Students hoping to study Dentistry might like to examine other ways in which our teeth can reflect our wider health. Applicants to study Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic could prepare for interview by investigating other ways in which the lives of the Saxons still impact us today.