(This started off a news story and ended up with me getting exceedingly interested in Anglo-Saxons with rickets. A topic for another time, clearly.)
Today’s Anglo-Saxon in the news is a 1,300 year old skeleton from a front garden in Croydon 16th April 2014. It was dug up by a builder. The homeowner got a distinctly unexpected phonemail to say that they had found a skull. She called the police, and the entire area was promptly shut down as a potential crime scene. Quite understandable, however on this occasion any crime which may have been committed was definitely out of their jurisdiction!
After testing in Florida it was revealed that the bones dated from 670 to 775. There was an almost complete adult skeleton, aged no more than 36, and a thigh bone from a child somewhere between 3 and 11. The bones are now on display in the Museum of Croydon. In 2016 apparently a report was commissioned to find out more about them. I can’t find it to save my life, so we’re just going to have to go with what the newspapers say the report said. *shudders*
Neither skeleton nor thighbone could be confirmed as male or female. The adult had had rickets as a child, but was no longer deficient as an adult.
Rickets is caused by lack of vitamin D, or sometimes lack of calcium. It was common before the 20th century but massively shrunk in occurrences after we started fortifying food like breakfast cereals and margarine. So eat your cornflakes, they really are good for you! People think that rickets is all about sunlight, and while sunlight is definitely incredibly important you can also get vitamin D from oily fish and eggs – and I’m sure we all know a few common ways to get calcium through food. More relevantly of course, this means that rickets can not only be caused or exacerbated by lack of sunlight but by malnutrition too. Thus it can be treated by eating more of the right food. Presumably the Anglo-Saxon had better access to eggs and stuff as they got older, somehow – I’m not good at 8th century life in comparison to 10th and 11th.
There are many signs and symptoms of rickets, and having as I said no access to the actual report I’m going to assume (gasp) that the diagnosis of childhood rickets was gained through skeletal deformities. The NHS website states some of these as: thickening of the ankles, wrists and knees, bowed legs, soft skull bones and, rarely, bending of the spine. There’s also the fact that bones with rickets don’t grow properly so the adult may have been shorter than others around them. On the other hand, they probably all had rickets too … hm, according to this book most adults were “of normal height”, which was 1.72 for men and 1.61m for women. Taller than bones found from the Roman period!
Rickets also messes with your teeth so the adult may have really needed a filling or two. Do I know Anglo-Saxon dentistry practises? No, I do not. Do I really want to research if it was anything more than “This is very sore; please yank it out?” Most definitely. Making a note for after this month is over.
Oh boy, I’ve been sidetracked. No, but personally I find that this sort of thinking really helps me to visualise the person. They’re not just a skeleton now because we have a clue about how their early life may have been. Every now and again it pays for me to step back and remember that these were actual living human beings, not just stats or facts. I suppose that’s why historical novels are so popular.
Well, that was a random collection of words tonight! Hope you found some of it of interest! See you tomorrow!