Saint Louis University

What did people eat in the middle ages? 

 It seems like a simple enough answer, in that most people assume that the diet of medieval people ranged from the grand banquets of kings to the very simple "gruel" of peasants.  Of course, the question is much more complicated, and historians and archaeologists are now applying modern techniques to solve questions about diet in the middle ages.

Dr. Jason Organ examining a skull from KilteasheenIn 2008, Dr Thomas Finan of the Department of History and Dr. Jason Organ of the School of Medicine received a Presidential Research Grant to undertake research that has examined the dental remains of four populations in the British Isles, two in Ireland, and two in northern England.  The Kilteasheen collection was excavated as part of the Kilteasheen Archaeological Project co-directed by Finan from 2005-09.  Over 130 medieval skeletons were excavated at this high status Gaelic ecclesiastial site, ranging in date from the eighth to fourteenth centuries.  Another collection from Ballyhanna, Co Sligo, Ireland, was being studied at the same time at the Institute of Technology-Sligo.  For comparison, two populations from York were also examined. 

Finan examining skull

Castings of molars were taken of selected skeletons, and those casts were scanned using a confocal white light microscope, yielding images that were then turned into 3D "dental landscapes" now being analyzed by a graduate student in the Center for Anatomical Studies at Saint Louis University.