Dental caries in medieval Britain (c. AD 450-1540) : temporal, geographical and contextual patterns
This research examines the prevalence of dental caries in Early (c. AD 450-950),
Middle (c. AD 950-1150) and Late Medieval Britain (c. AD 1150-1540). Eighty-eight
data-sets (for 79 sites, 14,296 skeletons) were compiled from published and
unpublished skeletal reports, but due to the limitations of the data available only 53
data-sets (for 46 sites, 9,136 skeletons) could be included in analysis. Sites were
distributed across the country, but the majority were located in the south and east of
England, and the Late Medieval sites were predominantly in urban areas. Caries
prevalence in teeth from adults, males, and females are compared between: the main
Medieval periods; chronological sub-divisions within the Early and Middle Medieval
periods; different Late Medieval cemetery types (church, monastic, hospital and
cathedral); non-monastic and monastic samples through time and within each period;
different religious orders; coastal and inland sites; and five regions. The data are
interpreted using a biocultural approach.
A low caries prevalence was observed in Early and Middle Medieval monastic
compared to non-monastic samples, but the Late Medieval monastic caries prevalence
was significantly higher than both preceding monastic samples and the contemporary
church sample; hospital sites had a particularly high caries prevalence. Early
Medieval coastal sites had a low caries prevalence compared to inland sites, but the
trend was reversed in the Late Medieval period; these data are discussed in relation to
the consumption of marine fish. Changes in the pattern of sex differences in caries
prevalence were observed.
The limitations of the data are discussed, together with a critique of the quality of data
available in currently available skeletal reports.