Skeleton tests demonstrate harsh reality of medieval life

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The Independent Online
TESTS on 300 medieval skeletons have confirmed that most people in the Middle Ages led lives of malnourishment, pain and constant physical hardship, writes Simon Denison.

The skeletons found at the site of Abingdon Abbey, Oxfordshire, in 1989, were those of ordinary townspeople and date from 1070 to 1540.

The tests, conducted by palaeo-pathologists at Leicester University led by Dr Jenny Wakely, confirmed that medieval man had appalling teeth.

Most skeletons of people over the age of 45 had lost all their back teeth, according to Dr Wakely. 'The remaining teeth are riddled with caries and tartar, which indicates an unhealthy, starchy diet based on cereal and bread,' she said.

Medieval man also suffered fractured bones. Many of the skeletons had fractures in ribs, arms or legs, which appeared to have been left to heal naturally. They indicated a life of constant, hard physical labour, Dr Wakely said.

However, the presence of arthritis in nearly half the adults, especially in fingers, knees and hips, suggests many lived beyond middle age.