A taste of hard work: assessing the utility of ancient tartar to track exposure to respiratory irritants of occupational origin in ancient skeletal remains


  • Dr Anita Radini

    University of York

Project summary

Many traditional crafts, both today and in the past, produce copious amounts of occupational dust, which can affect the respiratory health of the worker. 

I will recover microscopic evidence of these air pollutants by monitoring occupational dust produced by modern artisans and looking for evidence of these particles in the mouths of ancient crafters. By analysing dental tartar (or mineralised plaque) preserved on skeletons, I will characterise the kinds of microscopic air pollutants that are accidentally inhaled during traditional crafting, including particles of wool and flax, wood, and pigments, and I will look at their impact on health. In collaboration with the British Museum and other institutions abroad, I will use microscopic and nano-particle analysis of skeletal and mummified remains to document the respiratory health consequences of various occupations and elucidate the health experiences of both ancient and modern artisans.