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From Saliva to Saints: (m)oral Hygiene in the Middle Ages and the Case of Late Medieval Villamagna

Lecture | February 7 | 12-1 p.m. | 101 2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)


Trent Trombley, University of California, Berkeley Department of Anthropology

Archaeological Research Facility


Human dentition and the accompanying oral cavity is a dense source of biocultural information and has enjoyed a long history of anthropological fascination. Analyses have ranged from establishing biological affinity in archaeological communities via dental metric and non-metric traits, to larger evolutionary questions of morphology. However, dental tissues have seldom been analyzed for their social role within past societies. In the case of the Middle Ages, a wealth of historical documents and art historical motifs suggest the importance of oral hygiene to medieval people, and thus present an opportunity for archaeological insight into medieval ontological conceptions of oral healthcare. This presentation will focus on the data collected from the oral cavities from the late medieval (c. 1350-1500) cemetery community of Villamagna, Italy. Traditional bioarchaeological analyses on stress and weaning will be presented, and how it relates to rural medieval conceptions of childcare and the gendering of children. This will then be followed by biohistorical analyses relating to medieval conceptions of oral hygiene in order to demonstrate how the medieval mouth was biosocial orifice, capable of embodying social and moral cosmologies. Ultimately, this presentation seeks to expand the universe of discourse surrounding anthropological analyses of dental tissues and demonstrate the ways in which biological tissues could be dyadic and embody multiplicative meanings in past communities.


510-642-2212