Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Ear Bones Reveal Health History of Mothers, Children of 18th Century

Ear Bones Reveal Health History of Mothers, Children of 18th Century

Friday, 23 August, 2019 - 05:45
An archaeologist collects human bones as part of a restoration work in an effort to preserve the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic, February 14, 2019. — Reuters pic
Cairo - Hazem Badr

Researchers at the School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences, University of Bradford, have found that the bones of a dead child that date back to the past centuries, can provide information on the health of the mother and her baby in the first two trimesters of pregnancy, and the child's first two years.

During the study, which was published in the Annals of Human Biology journal, archaeologists examined ear ossicles taken from the skeletons of 20 juveniles, excavated from an 18th and 19th century burial ground in Blackburn, England. They were chosen to represent those with and without dietary disease, such as rickets and scurvy caused by the deficiencies of vitamin D and C.

Under the supervision of Dr. Julia Beaumont, professor of archeology at the University of Bradford, the researchers examined the children's bones and found that ear ossicle, the smallest bone in the human body, can provide information on the health of the mother and baby in old populations, and can be used to identify children at risk of disease in later life.

Building on Dr. Beaumont's previous research using teeth to get information on the health of mothers and babies, the team identified that a person's ossicles can also provide such information. However, what the team did not expect is that information can be obtained from the body's smallest bone: the ear ossicle.

"The ossicles are formed early on, when the child is in the womb and finishes developing in the first two years. Therefore, unlike other bones, it provides a unique snapshot of the health of the mother during the early stages of pregnancy," Beaumont told Asharq Al-Awsat.

This is the first time that human ear bones have been used to investigate the diet of people who died thousands of years ago. But, the findings can also be used to track the health of living people, Beaumont noted.

"Given that feeding an infant in the first 1,000 days of life is important for his lifetime, the ability to measure this from the tissues formed during that period can allow us to identify children at risk, and ear bones can help," she concluded.

Editor Picks