Research unearths new data on future health

Teeth from children buried in the 1800s used for new study

Analysis of the teeth of children buried during the Kilkenny Workhouse Famine in the 1800s will form part of a research study into how baby teeth can predict future health.

Dr Julia Beaumont from the University of Bradford has developed a new method of analysing archaeological dentine samples and their nitrogen isotopes values, to paint a picture of the nutritional environment children have been exposed to in the womb. A lecturer in biological anthropology, Dr Beaumont has just received funding of £20,000 to collect and analyse 250 teeth to identify a correlation between diet and physiology.

If successful, the technique used in the study has the potential to identify children at risk of disease in later life, as a forensic tool in cases of neglect, and also to study maternal and infant health in ancient populations. Dr Beaumont said: “Teeth can tell us a lot more than people think. They provide a unique signpost for nutritional issues that children may have been exposed to whilst in the womb or in early life. Early research shows that by examining these teeth we can predict certain health issues a child may have, later on in life.”

Remains of at least 970 individuals have been found in 63 mass burial graves at the workhouse site in Kilkenny since 2005.

Using her new technique, Dr Beaumont has found a marked difference in nitrogen levels between those children who died early and those children who survived from Neolithic Iron Age and 19th Century Britain and Ireland.