2,000 year old teeth reveal surprise diet of our Iron Age ancestors, Yorkshire experts find

Researchers studying the teeth of a woman who lived 2000 years ago have found that fish may have been part of her diet.

The teeth belonged to an elderly woman living in the Iron Age - and fish was not thought to have been eaten in great quantities until the medieval period.

The work, conducted at the British Geological Survey’s isotope facility by researchers at the University of York, was able to trace the diet of the woman, who lived on the Orkney Islands, back to infanthood.

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Her was placed in a ritual deposit inside a whalebone vessel, along with three new-born lambs at the Iron Age settlement, the Cairns, South Ronaldsay, Orkney.

The teeth reveal the surprising diet of our ancestorsThe teeth reveal the surprising diet of our ancestors
The teeth reveal the surprising diet of our ancestors

Professor Ian Armit, from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, said: “Isotopic analysis of the jawbone of this woman had previously shown evidence of marine protein consumption.

"This was only a small snapshot of her life before her death, however, and it was not clear whether fish was a permanent fixture of her diet, or just a necessity in her later years.

“She had only three teeth remaining that were particularly worn down and diseased, but one tooth was enough for us to analyse and go further back in time, from her infant years at around three years-old, to early adulthood to understand more of her diet at different stages of her life.”

The study showed that fish was routinely consumed throughout her life, suggesting that Iron Age people on Orkney did make use of the surrounding seas.