3-D technology used to safely reveal the diet of 'Chaucer's children'

February 25, 2016 by Sandy Fleming, University of Kent
A picture of medieval milk teeth. Credit: University of Kent

A new way of examining the teeth of children who lived between the 11th and 15th centuries without damaging them has been discovered.

Biological anthropologists have discovered a new way of examining the fragile teeth of who between the 11th and 15th centuries without damaging them.

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 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 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.

Explore further: Dental discovery to benefit forensic practitioners and anthropologists

More information: Patrick Mahoney et al, Deciduous enamel 3D microwear texture analysis as an indicator of childhood diet in medieval Canterbury, England, Journal of Archaeological Science (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2016.01.007

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