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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 secondsSo what was life as a medieval teenager like? Children were expected to contribute to the family income from an early age, and tended to help by looking after the animals or helping in the home. And later, though, they would seek work on the farm or within the towns. Better-off families could save up to send their child to become an apprentice in the towns. And many children of labourers and craftsmen entered the metal, leather, and wood industries, or the larger building industry which with the urbanisation of towns was a very large industry in the medieval period.

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 secondsWhile we have a few surviving apprentice contracts from London and France, we know little about teenage migrant workers who weren't apprentices, and the cemetery data can provide this information. Skeletons give us lots of information about people who never make it into the documentary records, although the historical records do provide us with a flavour of what the public thought of teenagers in their time. So we have a quote of "many lazy lozels and lurkish youths in towns and walking the streets, and frequenting taverns and ale houses." This sounds very familiar.

Skip to 1 minute and 23 secondsSo we wanted to examine occupational stress in our skeletons from medieval England. We examined 900 teenagers.

Skip to 1 minute and 32 secondsLots of strenuous activity on a growing skeleton can result in damage to the bones, and we can look at particular lesions that will help us understand occupation and perhaps help us pinpoint when teenagers started to work. So there are a lot of complex terms here. But more simply, osteochondrities dissecans is an area where you see dents on the bone as a result of damage to joints itself. This results in a bit of bone and cartilage being ripped away from the joint. Schmal's nodes are dentations, indentations that we see on the spine as a result of putting a lot of pressure on your developing spine.

Skip to 2 minutes and 13 secondsSpinal arthritis is just like arthritis today, where you get lots of degeneration of the joint due to lots of movement of that joint or strain on that area. Respiratory infections such as tuberculosis, lung infections, and sinus infections are seen to be related to occupational stress where people are exposed to poor air quality or living in very enclosed, crowded conditions. These can be identified in our skeletons by grey new bone formation on certain areas on the skeleton. And here we have an example of grey new bone on the ribs, suggesting they had an active chest infection when they died. Fractures to bones are usually quite easy to identify in the skeleton, as long as they are healed.

Skip to 2 minutes and 58 secondsAnd we can look at the patterns of these to understand what people may have been doing. This is particularly illustrated when we look at fractures. The location of a fracture might be able to tell us something about the activity someone was doing. So if you compare the urban and the rural population in the distribution of fractures, you can see that the urban population had fractures all over their body. This pattern is something that you might expect to see today in a rugby player, for example, where they're doing a lot of physical activity and a lot of crashing about into each other.

Skip to 3 minutes and 33 secondsSo you notice in particular that there were lots of lesions in the lower legs and the pelvis in the urban population compared to the rural, but both were sustaining head injuries and injuries to their feet.

Skip to 3 minutes and 46 secondsWhen we look at the urban population on its own and compare the males and the females, we're looking at males and females between 14 to 17 years of age. At about 14 years, we can start to sex our skeletons, so this enables us to look at gender differences. So although our sample sizes are quite small at this point, we can still look at some very general differences between males and females. As we look at the diagrams, the males have fractures to their skull, their nose and their teeth, and also their ribs. All of these are fractures that generally occur due to contact, and we would say interpersonal violence. Whereas the females, the majority of their fractures are in their spine.

Skip to 4 minutes and 26 secondsBoth individuals, though, both males and females, have fractures to their lower bodies.

Skip to 4 minutes and 33 secondsSo here we've got some examples of rib fractures in the males. And in the females, some of the lesions we saw in the spines. These are quite severe lesions, suggesting they were putting their bones under an awful lot of strain.

Skip to 4 minutes and 47 secondsSo what was it like to be a medieval teenager in England? We see that the occupational stress starts to appear in our skeletons around 10 years of age. Urban teenagers were susceptible to a wide variety of injuries, so they had lower leg injuries probably from falling from heights such as buildings, and also traffic accidents such as collisions with carts and horses. There were also injuries to their spines and their arms, suggesting strenuous activity in these young skeletons. Males appear to have been involved in fighting. They had lots of fractures that suggest interpersonal violence, so nasal fractures and rib fractures. Or perhaps they were wrestling. This was a very popular medieval pastime.

Skip to 5 minutes and 35 secondsThe female pattern is more consistent with what we might expect to see in domestic service, where they're carrying very heavy loads and causing a lot of damage and strain on their spine.

Skip to 5 minutes and 46 secondsThe skeletal evidence is consistent with documentary sources that suggest a working age of between 10 to 12 years, and also the behaviour, so boys in particular being involved in riots and fighting.

Skip to 6 minutes and 0 secondsIn addition, females had a greater level of tuberculosis and syphilis. And this suggests perhaps higher exposure, and perhaps we can suggest their activity. So perhaps they were susceptible to TB by tending animals and living in crowded working conditions, spending most of their time indoors, or potentially with syphilis that they were involved in prostitution.

Skip to 6 minutes and 27 secondsSo if you want to find out more about being a teenager in medieval England, you can consult some of our publications, so "The Life and Death of Medieval Women," which talks about infections and a bigger overview of what I've just talked about from work on the medieval adolescent.

Medieval life: part 2

What was life like for a medieval teenager? In this video, Mary Lewis looks at the new data we have on adolescent health in the medieval period.

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This video is from the free online course:

Archaeology: from Dig to Lab and Beyond

University of Reading

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