The saint’s legend speaks of a king who died a dramatic death in battle outside the church where he had just celebrated mass. But what can modern science tell us about his remains? A joint research project headed by Uppsala University now reveals more of the health condition of the medieval king Erik, what he looked like, where he lived and what the circumstances of his death were.
No contemporary sources mention Erik Jedvardsson, the Swedish king who was later sainted. The only account of his life is the saint’s legend, in its preserved form written in the 1290’s. Such legends are often unreliable. The Erik legend is, however, based on an older legend which has been lost, and this longer legend may have been much older.
The preserved legend says that Erik was chosen to be king, ruled fairly, was a devoted Christian, led a crusade against Finland, and supported the Church. He was killed in 1160, in his tenth year of rule, by a Danish claimant to the throne. His remains have rested in a reliquary since 1257.
A new way of examining the teeth of children who lived between the 11th and 15th centuries without damaging them has been discovered.
Medieval children’s milk teeth
By using 3D microscopic imaging, researchers from the universities of Kent (UK) and Indianapolis (USA) have been able to safely reconstruct the diet of children who would have lived next door to Canterbury Cathedral when Chaucer was writing his famous Tales.
The 3D technology – known as dental microwear texture analysis – involved measuring microscopic changes in the surface topography of the teeth.This is the first time that this technology has been applied to children’s teeth.
By using this technology Kent’s Dr Patrick Mahoney, biological anthropologist, (School of Anthropology and Conservation), and colleagues, who included a historian, were able to learn more about how diet varied among children from poor and wealthy families in medieval Canterbury.
Dietary reconstructions from ancient teeth are often destructive, but this technology offers a new way to access this information without damaging fragile teeth.
Dr Mahoney is a leading expert on dental development of modern human children. He expects that applications of this technique will pioneer a new era in anthropological studies, opening up the dietary secrets of ancient children, and our fossil ancestors.
The findings, which were funded by a British Academy-Leverhulme Trust research grant, were presented in the February edition of Journal of Archaeological Science.
(Text & Images’ Source: article by Sandy Fleming, University of Kent)