Sunday, October 10, 2004

Medieval Teeth

Medieval teeth 'better than Baldrick's'

BBC, October 8, 2004
Jane Elliott BBC News Online health staff

Think of medieval England and you are likely to conjure up an image of a wizened hag with black stumps for teeth.

But although that might have been the unfortunate state of some people's teeth, others had much better care.

Documents show that, not only were the educationally elite aware of the importance of keeping their teeth clean, but they also knew how to fill cavities and deal with facial fractures.

They could recognise oral cancer and even knew the rudiments of teeth whitening.


A paper published in the British Dental Journal shows that medieval (12-14th century) literature even makes reference to creating false teeth.

The paper's author, osteo-archeologist Trevor Anderson, said the papers referred to ways of preserving and improving teeth.

"There were liquids to whiten teeth, methods of removing calculus (plaque) and compounds for filling cavities.

"There is also a reference to dentures made of human teeth or cow bone.

"Surgery is known for oral cancer as well as the repair of fractured jaws."

But Mr Anderson said the documents would only have been available to an elite group of physicians and surgeons, usually based in the larger cities or university towns.

He added: "The richer the person was the more sugar they had in their diet and therefore the more decay. The medieval peasants would probably have been eating a coarser diet and so they would have less trapped in their teeth and therefore less decay.

"Most people would probably have to rely largely on local barber surgeons, the local blacksmith, their friends and their own traditional remedies to treat dental problems."


One of the earliest texts 'The Chirurgia of Roger Frugard', which was written in Latin in Italy around 1180AD mentions oral cancer and suggests surgery.

It recommends that in the acute stages the disease can be cured by cutting into the normal flesh around the cancer, cauterising the wound and then sealing it with egg yolk before washing it with wine.

After three days the wound should be rubbed with alum before applying a lotion made from wine and honey and infused with the roots of the herb mullein; honeysuckle, pomegranate and ginger.

It also suggests solving dislocation of the jaw by applying a preparation of marshmallow and giving the patient soft, easily digested food to ensure that chewing does not lead to further dislocation.

The remedy for toothache suggests cauterising the skin behind the ears before heating the plant henbane and leek seeds over hot coals and ensuring the patient inhales the smoke through a funnel.

Welsh folklore makes of the period mentions a variety of herbal remedies and a combination of magic and prayer to cure toothache.

Early forms of teeth whitening include using the herb elecampane (Inula helenium) to scrub the teeth and taking sage leaves and making a powder of them and salt.

Sage, along with rosemary and mallows, is suggested to help alleviate gangrene and, soreness of the mouth and along with salt and vinegar to help deal with mouth cancer.

But as well as using the more traditional herbs, writers also suggest several bizarre recipes to promote painless extractions. One instructs medieval dentists to:

"Take some newts, by some called lizards, and those nasty beetles which are found in fens during the summer time, calcine them in an iron pot and make a powder thereof.

"Wet the forefinger of the right hand, insert it in the powder, and apply it to the tooth frequently, refraining from spitting it off, when the tooth will fall away without pain. It is proven."


Another, from 1314AD, suggests that simply praying to St Apollonia on her feast day of February 9th,will cure toothache. She was an elderly deaconess who was martyred by having all her teeth extracted and was then burnt alive.

Other literature of the period includes tips to avoid "stinking of the breath" by gargling birch and mint soaked in wine and rubbing the gums with a strong linen cloth until they bleed.

Material used for early fillings include gall nuts, pig grease and myrrh. sulphur, camphor, beeswax, arsenic among others.

Jo Tanner of the BDA said the research showed a fascinating insight into medieval dentistry.
"When most people think about medieval teeth, they think of the likes of Baldrick from Blackadder.

"What this research shows, though, is that our ancestors were far more aware of the value of a good smile than we have previously given them credit for.

"While tooth whitening may be more commonly associated with today's pop stars and Hollywood actors, this research shows that their medieval ancestors were every bit as concerned about projecting star quality with their smiles."


Saturday, September 11, 2004


Remember the day, and all those who lost their lives that day, and all those who have given their lives since.

I have decided I will repaste this post each year on the day, not for any reason except to remind me, however busy or not, that there is something more important than worrying about a bill or class. Something far greater and more important.

Saturday, September 4, 2004

Men in the Middle Ages v. Men Now

Men From Early Middle Ages Were Nearly As Tall As Modern People

ScienceDaily (Sep. 2, 2004) —

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Northern European men living during the early Middle Ages were nearly as tall as their modern-day American descendants, a finding that defies conventional wisdom about progress in living standards during the last millennium.

"Men living during the early Middle Ages (the ninth to 11th centuries) were several centimeters taller than men who lived hundreds of years later, on the eve of the Industrial Revolution," said Richard Steckel, a professor of economics at Ohio State University and the author of a new study that looks at changes in average heights during the last millennium.

"Height is an indicator of overall health and economic well-being, and learning that people were so well-off 1,000 to 1,200 years ago was surprising," he said.

Steckel analyzed height data from thousands of skeletons excavated from burial sites in northern Europe and dating from the ninth to the 19th centuries. Average height declined slightly during the 12th through 16th centuries, and hit an all-time low during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Northern European men had lost an average 2.5 inches of height by the 1700s, a loss that was not fully recovered until the first half of the 20th century.

Steckel believes a variety of factors contributed to the drop – and subsequent regain – in average height during the last millennium. These factors include climate change; the growth of cities and the resulting spread of communicable diseases; changes in political structures; and changes in agricultural production.

"Average height is a good way to measure the availability and consumption of basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care and exposure to disease," Steckel said. "Height is also sensitive to the degree of inequality between populations."

The study appears in a recent issue of the journal Social Science History.

Steckel analyzed skeletal data from 30 previous studies. The bones had been excavated from burial sites in northern European countries, including Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Great Britain and Denmark. In most cases, the length of the femur, or thighbone, was used to estimate skeletal height. The longest bone in the body, the femur comprises about a quarter of a person's height.

According to Steckel's analysis, heights decreased from an average of 68.27 inches (173.4 centimeters) in the early Middle Ages to an average low of roughly 65.75 inches (167 cm) during the 17th and 18th centuries.

"This decline of two-and-a-half inches substantially exceeds any height fluctuations seen during the various industrial revolutions of the 19th century," Steckel said.

Reasons for such tall heights during the early Middle Ages may have to do with climate. Steckel points out that agriculture from 900 to 1300 benefited from a warm period – temperatures were as much as 2 to 3 degrees warmer than subsequent centuries. Theoretically, smaller populations had more land to choose from when producing crops and raising livestock.

"The temperature difference was enough to extend the growing season by three to four weeks in many settled regions of northern Europe," Steckel said. "It also allowed for cultivation of previously unavailable land at higher elevations."

Also, populations were relatively isolated during the Middle Ages – large cities were absent from northern Europe until the late Middle Ages. This isolation in the era before effective public health measures probably helped to protect people from communicable diseases, Steckel said.

"It is notable that bubonic plague made its dramatic appearance in the late Middle Ages, when trade really took off," he said.

Steckel cites several possible reasons why height declined toward the end of the Middle Ages:
* The climate changed rather dramatically in the 1300s, when the Little Ice Age triggered a cooling trend that wreaked havoc on northern Europe for the following 400 to 500 years.

Colder temperatures meant lower food production as well as greater use of resources for heating. But many temperature fluctuations, ranging in length from about 15 to 40 years, kept people from fully adapting to a colder climate, Steckel said.

"These brief periods of warming disguised the long-term trend of cooler temperatures, so people were less likely to move to warmer regions and were more likely to stick with traditional farming methods that ultimately failed," he said. "Climate change was likely to have imposed serious economic and health costs on northern Europeans, which in turn may have caused a downward trend in average height."

* Urbanization and the growth of trade gained considerable momentum in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Both brought people together, which encouraged the spread of disease. And global exploration and trade led to the worldwide diffusion of many diseases into previously isolated areas.

"Height studies for the late 18th and early 19th centuries show that large cities were particularly hazardous for health," Steckel said. "Urban centers were reservoirs for the spread of communicable diseases."

* Inequality in Europe grew considerably during the 16th century and stayed high until the 20th century – the rich grew richer from soaring land rents while the poor paid higher prices for food, housing and land.

"In poor countries, or among the poor in moderate-income nations, large numbers of people are biologically stressed or deprived, which can lead to stunted growth," Steckel said. "It's plausible that growing inequality could have increased stress in ways that reduced average heights in the centuries immediately following the Middle Ages."

* Political changes and strife also brought people together as well as put demand on resources.
"Wars decreased population density, which could be credited with improving health, but at a large cost of disrupting production and spreading disease," Steckel said. "Also, urbanization and inequality put increasing pressure on resources, which may have helped lead to a smaller stature."

Exactly why average height began to increase during the 18th and 19th centuries isn't completely clear, but Steckel surmises that climate change as well as improvements in agriculture helped.

"Increased height may have been due partly to the retreat of the Little Ice Age, which would have contributed to higher yields in agriculture. Also improvements in agricultural productivity that began in the 18th century made food more plentiful to more people.

This study is part of the Global History of Health Project, an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation to analyze human health throughout the past 10,000 years.

Steckel wants to continue looking at, and interpreting, fluctuations in height across thousands of years

"I want to go much further back in time and look at more diverse populations to see if this general relationship holds over 10,000 years," he said.

middle ages

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Saddam's nuclear materials - 1st Wave Removed

US Removed Radioactive material From Iraq

The Washington Post
July 7, 2004 Wednesday
Final Edition
SECTION: A Section; A16

U.S. Removed Radioactive Materials From Iraq Facility

Walter Pincus, Washington Post Staff Writer

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced yesterday that almost two tons of low-enriched uranium and about 1,000 radioactive samples used for research had been removed from Iraq's Tuwaitha Nuclear Center and brought to the United States for security reasons.

The airlift of the radioactive materials was completed June 23, Abraham said in a statement, "to keep potentially dangerous nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists." Less sensitive radiological materials -- used for medical, agricultural or industrial purposes -- were left in Iraq, according to a Department of Energy statement.


In April 2003, just days after the statue of Hussein in Baghdad was pulled down, a U.S. Marine engineering company took a close look at Tuwaitha, which is 30 miles south of Baghdad. There they found guards had abandoned their posts and looters were roaming the giant facility. At one storage building, which later was found to hold radioactive samples used in research, the radiation levels were too high to enter safely, although the entrance door stood wide open.

A month later, the Pentagon rejected suggestions that U.N. inspectors be allowed to reenter Iraq but agreed the IAEA experts could return to secure the uranium that had been under its seal for years.


Make Mine Freedom - 1948

American Form of Government

Who's on First? Certainly isn't the Euro.