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, United Kingdom

Project summary

Many traditional and ancient crafts produce great amounts of pollutants, in the form of fine dust particles, which can be very detrimental to health. It is now becoming possible for archaeologists to retrieve a range of microscopic pollutants from the 'mouth' of ancient individuals, as they can become entombed in their dental tartar, thanks to cutting edge research involving Archaeology, Environmental and Physics Material Sciences. From early summer 2020 to early summer 2021 two consecutive exhibitions will be held at 'The King?s Manor' (home of the Department of Archaeology) and at 'DIG: an archaeological adventure' - run by the York Archaeological Trust (YAT). The exhibitions will communicate, to an audience of families and schools, that mainly experiences the past in the form of buildings and artefacts, the importance of air quality by engaging the audience with the ?dust? and airborne particles from craft activities, effectively moving the focus of attention from the object to the crafters and their health. The public will be able to view large high resolution images of pollutants retrieved from skeletal remains (King's Manor) of ancient crafters, as well as directly 'connecting' with 'pollutants' via a tactile experience (DIG), while learning about oral health. The tactile experience at DIG will provide the opportunity to feel the 'weight' of the pollutants generated over time during pottery/textile work. The exhibitions will elucidate the health experiences of both ancient and modern artisans, and create awareness of the importance of air quality to health through archaeology. Keywords pollution, archaeology, crafters, health