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The grins of Anglo-Saxon children might seem like something fleeting and insignificant, but they actually give us a considerable insight into modern health.

By analysing the dentine in the milk teeth of Anglo-Saxon children, whose skeletons have been found in a 10th Century excavation site in Northamptonshire, scientists were able to gain a reliable indicator of the effects of diet and health, on both infants and their mothers.
The children were found to have had limited bone growth, as a result of being undernourished, and thus limited evidence was available from analysis of their bones alone. Teeth, however, continue to grow under the effects of stress and starvation, so act as an accurate archive for researchers.

The American Journal of Physical Anthropology describes how the development of these excavated child skeletons can be observed from the third trimester of pregnancy onwards. This analysis is the first instance of secure and measurable in utero data from the Anglo-Saxon period. Researchers from the University of Bradford investigated how the high-risk period of the 1,000 days post-conception significantly influences later health.

Dr Julia Beaumont, a specialist in Archaeological and Forensic Sciences at the University of Bradford, believes that these new findings, about the importance of the three-year period from conception, have a direct impact on the way we use modern medicine. She describes these crucial early days as acting as a ‘template’ for later life, determining the likelihood of a person to develop conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

By studying the milk teeth of modern children in the same way as those from Middle Age skeletons, experts find ways to mitigate risks from lifestyle induced diseases. Students hoping to study Dentistry might like to examine other ways in which our teeth can reflect our wider health. Applicants to study Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic could prepare for interview by investigating other ways in which the lives of the Saxons still impact us today.

Students hoping to study Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic might be predisposed to think that there isn’t anything ‘new’ that can be discovered about this seemingly old subject. However a recent discovery not only has made historians reconsider a significant moment in the creation of England as we know it, but has also once again backed up the idea that Viking warriors were female.

The idea that Vikings warriors were women is a fairly recent discovery. The famous ‘Valkyrie’ warriors were iconic figures shrouded in myth and legend, however recent discoveries in both Sweden and now through radiocarbon dating by the University of Bristol, have revealed that 20% of Viking warriors were in fact female.

The discovery also backs up the idea that in the 9th Century, the Great Heathen Army invaded the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that constituted England in 865. The army would have consisted of elements from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Ireland, as it was not uncommon for different Viking leaders to join together for a common cause. They defeated the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and executed King Ælla of Northumbria by ‘blood eagle’, a rather gory method, due the King killing their father, Ragnar Lodbrok. Interestingly, ‘Lodbrok’ translates as ‘Shaggy-Breeches’ – turns out baggy trousers were popular even before they were iconicized by MC Hammer.

As the Vikings were seafarers, their diet consisted of mainly fish and sea-based food. As much of the carbon consumed by organisms in the ocean is a lot older than carbon on land, this means that dating can get tricky, and radiocarbon testing can make the remains appear much older than they actually are. This is called the ‘Marine Reservoir Effect’. The archaeologists need to correct this by essentially estimating how much seafood each of the Vikings would have eaten. 

Students hoping to study Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic may want to think about how this Viking raid shaped modern day Britain, and maybe want to delve into the interestingly named leaders/brothers of the Great Heathen Army: Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Björn Ironside and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is the third installment of the Thor franchise, which is part of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. As you would expect from it’s titular character, the franchise is loosely based on Nordic mythology, with this particular iteration focusing on Ragnarök, which roughly translates to ‘The Doom of the Gods’. The original story tells of the fire-god ‘Surtr’ along with his army of giants, engulfing Asgard in fire, successfully destroying the Asgardians home, as well as all of humanity. The only survivors are a man (Lífþrasir) and woman (Líf), who are left to rebuild their world.

Although the film does include some of the main protagonists and antagonists from the original story (Thor, Odin, Loki, the Valkyries), most of them don’t have quite as bleak of an ending as they do in the original Nordic tale. Thor is bitten by the giant sea serpent ‘Jormungandr’ and dies from it’s poison, Odin is swallowed whole on the battlefield by Fenrir, the vicious wolf. Thor’s hammer ‘Mjulnir’, however, which is destroyed in the film, would have not been destroyed in the original tale, as ‘Thor might smite as hard as he desired, whatsoever might be before him, and the hammer would not fail’ (Prose Edda).

The Nordic religion isn’t the only one to have been portrayed on a grand epic scale in Hollywood. Christianity has always been a focus when it comes to the silver screen, with ‘Noah’ being directed by Darren Aronofsky, and portrayed by Russell Crowe in 2014. This film also added some artistic flourishes the original tale, amplifying the fantastical elements of the story by adding  ‘stone golems’ called ‘Watchers’. Ragnarok has been compared to the Christian ‘end times’, however the rebirth and recreation which occurs in the aftermath seems to be a more cyclical interpretation of an apocalypse, perhaps more in keeping with Noah’s Ark.

Students applying to Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic might want to read ‘The Viking Spirit’ by Daniel McCoy for a more comprehensive understanding of Nordic mythology. Humanities and Arts students might want to consider how changes to source material in literature, film and the arts may improve, or detract from the original inspiration. Students considering Archaeology might want to think about what artifacts and rune-stones, such as those depicting Thor and Mjulnir, can prove about the mythology of certain cultures. Theology students might want to see how gods from different religions are portrayed in the Arts.

According to new research, the infamous opening line of Beowulf has been misinterpreted for centuries.

The opening proclamation of ‘hwæt’ has been translated to read as ‘so!’, ‘listen!’, and other variations on this attention-grabbing theme. Dr George Walkden, a researcher at the University of Manchester, has argued against this popular wisdom to say that the opening line of Beowulf should be read as “how we have heard the might of the kings,” as opposed to “listen! We have heard of the might of the kings.”

While perhaps a subtle change, this different reading can give us some insight into Beowulf’s audience. Dr Walkden points out that perhaps the Anglo-Saxon audience were receptive to the story, rather than being cajoled into listening; “it doesn’t say ‘Oi you, listen to this!’ Perhaps they were more appreciative.” Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic, Archaeology and Anthropology and History students should look at the history behind the Beowulf epic to understand how historical fact fed into fiction.

English students should think further on the importance of accurate translations and the nuances of syntax when creating new adaptations, particularly looking at the varying translations of Shakespeare across time as an example of how literature is malleable through translation.

Translation is also a crucial area of inquiry for Theologians. Investigating some common difficulties in translations of the Bible is a way to begin understanding the variations in different versions of the Bible and why these are historically significant.

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