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You Are What You Ate: The bare bones of bad diets

 You Are What You Ate: The bare bones of bad diets

Yorkshire academics are to host a history lesson with a difference. Members of the public will get the chance to inspect real human remains, in an effort to examine how eating habits affect the body.

The hands-on workshop provides a unique opportunity for participants to handle skeletal and dental remains dating back to the medieval era. It will explore how a wide variety of diseases linked to poor nutrition - many of which are still common today - have left their mark on the remains, in a bid to establish what medieval diets can teach us about modern day healthy eating. 

Academics from the Universities of Leeds and Bradford will also lead discussions on what the archaeological findings tell us about the societies to which they belong, such as the relationship between bad teeth and social status in the Middle Ages.  

The free-to-all event will take place at the University of Bradford on Wednesday the 18th May and Saturday 4th June. It forms part of the You Are What You Ate project.

Dr Iona McCleery, food historian at the University of Leeds and co-ordinator of You Are What You Ate, said: "This event provides a great opportunity for members of the public to see how the effects of unhealthy eating can still be traced on our bodies centuries after we die."

Dr Jo Buckberry, biological anthropologist from the University of Bradford, said: "A sugary or starchy diet, both in the past and today, leaves tell-tale traces on the teeth especially and this can tell us a great deal about how people lived and worked"

You Are What You Ate: food lessons from the past
is a three year research project funded by a Society Award from the Wellcome Trust. It involves academics from the University of Leeds, the University of Bradford and Cultural Officers from Wakefield Council. Project members are working together to deliver a wide range of events including festival stalls, exhibitions, workshops and school activities.

The bone workshop runs from 2pm to 4.30pm on Wednesday 18th May and from 10am to 12.30pm on Saturday 4th June, at the Archaeological Sciences department at the University of Bradford. Refreshments will be provided and the event is open to anyone over 18, but booking is essential. If you are interested in attending please email or call 0113  343 1910.

Iona McCleery is available for interview. Contact Press Office and Communications team, telephone: 0113 343 4031 or

Notes to editors

  • This event has been rescheduled from the previously publicised date of February 15th 2011, which had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstance.
  • The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust's breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.
  • Iona McCleery has been lecturer in medieval history at the University of Leeds since 2007, prior to which she held a Wellcome Research Fellowship in the History of Medicine at the University of Durham.
  • The Society Awards are part of the Wellcome Trust's Engaging Science grants programme which funds projects which engage the public with biomedical science and its social contexts.  The Society Awards aim to support public engagement activities which have a significant impact at national or regional level and that address a key need.
  • The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The university is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The university's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.

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