The researchers gained insight into the lifestyle and diet of two indirectly related groups.
Dr. Kaare Lund Rasmussen, professor of archeometry at the University of Southern Denmark, and his colleagues conducted a study looking at the bones of different people from Montella Italy and Danish Svennborg, who lived in the 17th century. The remains of both groups of people were found during excavations at the site of private chapels. The only thing that united them, besides the time in which they lived, were some connections with Franciscan monks.
Based on the amount of strontium, barium, lead, copper, mercury and other elements in the bones of people, the researchers made indirect conclusions about their lifestyle and diet.
In total, the authors of the work studied the remains of 69 people: 17 of them were representatives of the nobility in Montell and were buried near the chapel, 34 people were buried near a nearby monastery and were either monks or commoners, 7 remains belonged to Danish nobles and 14 more residents of Svennborg.
Rasmussen said that the Danes did not cook in copper pots, while the Italians "did it diligently, regardless of their social status." This is evidenced by a small amount of copper that entered the body along with food and accumulated in the bones of people from Montella.
The levels of strontium and barium in the bones of the nobles were much lower compared to the common inhabitants, which suggests that they ate more meat, while the commoners ate mostly standard cereals, cereals and stews.
Hardenberg Chapel in Svendborg, where the remains of Danish nobles were found. It was probably built at the end of the 16th century and destroyed in 1876 during the construction of a railway in this place.
When we talk about mercury and lead in a medieval context, we usually associate these metals with alchemists, however, the nobles of the 17th century were everywhere surrounded by these substances.
Earlier studies have shown that high lead concentrations in bone samples tend to indicate high social status. According to Rasmussen, the ancient Romans, wealthy Germans and Danes in the Middle Ages "could have been more or less constantly exposed to lead poisoning by consuming too much food and drink that came into contact with this metal."
Mercury was a widely trusted treatment for leprosy and syphilis in those days. Research shows that some of the noble members of the Italian family used mercury, while none of the samples from the Italian monastery showed any trace of this substance. In contrast, the study found that in Denmark both social groups had equal access to medicines containing mercury.