Archaeologists to reconsider origins of industrial era obesity and cancer by scanning Museum of London skeletons

Research begins on 1,500 skeletons from medieval and industrial-era London

Ben Miller

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© Museum of London

Some of London’s most important skeletons will be digitally x-rayed and scanned in a new archaeological investigation linking “man-made” diseases with the industrialisation of the city.

More than 1,000 adult men and women from the industrial revolution period, as well as 500 more from the medieval metropolis, will be used in quest to find out how the era affected the population at the Museum of London’s Centre for Human Bioarcheology. The latest clinical techniques will help to create an interactive online database for the public.

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© Museum of London

The most tangible evidence we have for the long-term consequences of the industrialisation process upon us is, quite simply, written in our bones,” says Jelena Bekvalac, the leader of a research team who plan to begin their work immediately.

Modern health trends have seen a shift towards increasing life expectancy but we want to look again at what are often thought of as ‘man-made’ conditions like obesity and cancer. 

Given today’s more sedentary lifestyles, far removed from the physically active and natural existence of most of our forebears, there are some big questions about the origins of these diseases and how they relate to the modern environment.” 

Bekvalac hopes to publish her team’s findings as soon as possible and deliver a series of lectures about the work.