Anglo Saxon teeth could help us understand modern health


Researchers from the University of Bradford analysed dentine from the milk teeth of Anglo Saxon children from a 10th century settlement in Raunds Furnells, Northamptonshire, and believe the evidence they found could help us understand more about today’s children at risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

The skeletons analysed were known to belong to an undernourished group, the result of which is limited bone growth, narrowing the evidence researchers can gather from just bone, like age. The teeth however gave a more reliable indicator of the effects of diet and health than bone because they continue to grow and record high nitrogen values even when undernourished. The researchers were able to get reliable in utero data for the first time, which gave them information about the development of this particular group of children from the third trimester onwards, giving up not only vital clues about the health of the children, but also that of the mothers.

“Anglo Saxon teeth could help us understand modern health.“

Dr Julia Beaumont, Bradford University’s School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences, said: “This is the first time that we have been able to measure with confidence the in utero nitrogen values of dentine. We find that when bone and teeth form at the same time, bone doesn’t record high nitrogen values that occur during stress. Our hypothesis is that bone isn’t growing but teeth are. So archaeology can’t rely on the evidence from bones alone because bone is not forming and recording during high stress and we can’t be sure, for example, of the age of a skeleton. Teeth are more reliable as they continue to grow even when a child is starving. There is a growing consensus that factors such as low birthweight have a significant impact on our likelihood of developing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity and that the first 1,000 days from conception onwards set our ‘template’. By analysing the milk teeth of modern children in the same way as the Anglo Saxon skeletons, we can measure the same values and see the risk factors they are likely to face in later life, enabling measures to be taken to mitigate such risks.”

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