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3D technology reveals diet of ‘Chaucer’s children’

Sandy Fleming thumbnail By Sandy Fleming | 25 February 2016
A new way of examining the teeth of children who lived between the 11th and 15th centuries without damaging them has been discovered.
Medieval children's milk teeth

By using 3D microscopic imaging, researchers from the universities of Kent (UK) and Indianapolis (USA) have been able to safely reconstruct the diet of children who would have lived next door to Canterbury Cathedral when Chaucer was writing his famous Tales.

The 3D technology – known as dental microwear texture analysis – involved measuring microscopic changes in the surface topography of the teeth.This is the first time that this technology has been applied to children’s teeth.

By using this technology Kent’s Dr Patrick Mahoney, biological anthropologist, (School of Anthropology and Conservation), and colleagues, who included a historian, were able to learn more about how diet varied among children from poor and wealthy families in medieval Canterbury.

Dietary reconstructions from ancient teeth are often destructive, but this technology offers a new way to access this information without damaging fragile teeth.

Dr Mahoney is a leading expert on dental development of modern human children.  He expects that applications of this technique will pioneer a new era in anthropological studies, opening up the dietary secrets of ancient children, and our fossil ancestors.

The findings, which were funded by a British Academy-Leverhulme Trust research grant, were presented in the February edition of Journal of Archaeological Science.

 

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