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Scientists compare the bones of medieval nobles and ordinary people

Scientists have unearthed remains of medieval and Danish and Italians in a very first analysis of the differences between noble families and ordinary people.

The team took samples from 69 individuals buried in the 17th to 18th centuries in search of trace elements and heavy metals in the bones that revealed details about the person’s diet during their lifetime.

Noble families were found to have more lead in the bones as a result of drinking wine containing lead salts and mercury, which was an expensive treatment for leprosy and syphilis.

Less strontium and barium were also seen in the bones of nobles compared to the bones of the less fortunate, meaning they injected more animal flesh.

Scientists have unearthed remains of medieval and Danish and Italians in a very first analysis of the differences between noble families and ordinary people. The team took samples from 69 individuals buried during the 17th to 18th

Scientists have unearthed remains of medieval and Danish and Italians in a very first analysis of the differences between noble families and ordinary people. The team took samples from 69 individuals buried during the 17th to 18th

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Southern Denmark, who collected 84 samples from the deceased’s femoral bones.

The team used remains of individuals buried in two private chapels – one in the town of Svendborg in Denmark, the other in Montella, Italy.

Both cemeteries were connected to chapels where ordinary townspeople were buried.

Professor of Archeometry, Kaare Lund Rasmussen said, “We expected to find common features for the two different social classes, and we did – in part.”

“But we also found similarities and differences that are not linked to social status.”

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Southern Denmark, who collected 84 samples from the deceased's femoral bones. The team used remains of individuals buried in two private chapels - one in the town of Svendborg in Denmark, the other in Montella, Italy

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Southern Denmark, who collected 84 samples from the deceased's femoral bones. The team used remains of individuals buried in two private chapels - one in the town of Svendborg in Denmark, the other in Montella, Italy

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Southern Denmark, who collected 84 samples from the deceased’s femoral bones. The team used remains of individuals buried in two private chapels – one in the town of Svendborg in Denmark, the other in Montella, Italy

Less strontium and barium were found in the bones of nobles compared to the bones of the less fortunate, meaning they injected more animal flesh

Less strontium and barium were found in the bones of nobles compared to the bones of the less fortunate, meaning they injected more animal flesh

Less strontium and barium were found in the bones of nobles compared to the bones of the less fortunate, meaning they injected more animal flesh

The team was looking for specific elements and heavy metals in the bones: strontium, barium, lead, copper and mercury.

All of these reveal information about a person’s diet and what his mouth has touched in his lifetime.

Less strontium and barium were found in the bones of the noble chapels compared to the bones of the cloisters, where ordinary people were buried.

Due to the lower levels, the nobles ate more animal meat, as the meal was more expensive than porridge in both Denmark and Italy at the time, which was a staple for ordinary people.

The team found that the copper content in the Italian samples was higher than in Denmark – both among the nobility and the less fortunate.

The team found that the copper content in the Italian samples was higher than in Denmark, both among the nobility and the less fortunate. The copper level was 21 times higher among Italians than in the Danes.

The team found that the copper content in the Italian samples was higher than in Denmark, both among the nobility and the less fortunate. The copper level was 21 times higher among Italians than in the Danes.

The team found that the copper content in the Italian samples was higher than in Denmark – both among the nobility and the less fortunate. The copper level was 21 times higher among Italians than in the Danes.

“This can be explained by the fact that the Danes did not prepare food in copper pots and barrels – and conversely, the Italians did it diligently, regardless of their social status,” Rasmussen explained.

She continued to comment on how Italians stored and cooked their food.

The group used copper pots, knives and spoons that could be taken by scraping them against bowls or plates.

As a result, the copper level in Italians was 21 times higher than in the Danes.

Both Danish and Italian noble families had more lead in their bones than the less wealthy – the Danes slightly more than the Italians.

High lead concentrations indicate a high social status. We have also seen that in other studies, ‘says Rasmussen.

Lead was used in many ways in the Middle Ages and especially by the wealthy because of the cost.

It was used to glaze kitchen utensils, added to wine to inhibit fermentation, and added to roofs to collect rainwater.

Rasmussen has previously shown that the ancient Romans and wealthy Germans and Danes could be more or less permanently ill in the Middle Ages from lead poisoning from consuming too much food and drink that had come in contact with lead.

For this study, the team took samples from bones found in Svendborg, Denmark

For this study, the team took samples from bones found in Svendborg, Denmark

For this study, the team took samples from bones found in Svendborg, Denmark

Researchers also found high levels of mercury in the Italian nobles, because it was taken as a means of treating diseases such as leprosy and syphilis.

And they found that none of the skeletons of the Italian cloister contained mercury.

The distribution of mercury was more even in Denmark.

“It seems that both social groups in Denmark had equal access to mercury-containing medicines,” Rasmussen said.

“However, none of them showed particularly high levels.”

WHAT IS LEPROSY?

Leprosy is a long-term infectious disease that can lead to inflammation of the nerves, airways, skin and eyes.

The disease is initially symptomless and can go unnoticed for five to 20 years.

Leprosy, typical of those living in poverty, was common in the Middle Ages and then in the nineteenth century, but can still be found in developed and developing countries.

In 2012, the number of chronic leprosy cases was 189,000, up from 5.2 million in the 1980s, with India accounting for more than half of all cases.

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