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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Mrs Ellen Kendall

(email at

Research Topic

Breastfeeding as an Adaptive Strategy to Environmental Pressures in Early Anglo-Saxon England


Early childhood diet is known to have significance for both childhood morbidity and long-term health. Many studies have attempted to characterize the pattern and duration of infant feeding practices in the past, while acknowledging the complex array of factors which determine these: cultural tradition, familial structure, fertility, and environment. The last of these has rarely been deconstructed, despite having a significant effect on all other factors, heavily influencing disease ecology and life expectancy. This study attempts to examine the influence of environment on breastfeeding and weaning patterns at two early Anglo-Saxon (5th-6th century AD) cemetery sites in Cambridgeshire through high-resolution incremental sampling of permanent and deciduous molar dentine for carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses. Littleport was a Fen island community which would have faced significant threats to health from waterborne diseases inherent to living in a marshy environment, as well as “fen ague” (P. vivax malaria), which is known to have been endemic to the Fens during the pre-drainage era. The second site, Edix Hill (Barrington A), was a non-Fen upland site. Comparison of skeletal indicators of "stress” supports the identification of these sites as differing in state of health and environmental pressure. The analysis of deciduous teeth from children and permanent teeth from adult individuals will allow for comparison of the isotopic profiles of non-survivors and survivors of childhood, as well as allowing for comparison of gendered patterning of health and early childhood diet among those surviving to adulthood. This data will contribute to a nuanced understanding of the interactions between early childhood diet and health during the early Anglo-Saxon period, a timespan for which there is currently a paucity of childhood palaeonutrition data.


Indicators of Esteem

  • 2013: Society for the Study of Human Biology Poster Prize:

Selected Publications

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Selected Grants

  • 2016: Durham University Archaeology Research Dialogue Leader
  • 2014: Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies Grant
  • 2014: Society for the Study of Human Biology Research Grant
  • 2013: Durham University College Travel Grant
  • 2013: Rosemary Cramp Fund
  • 2013: Wolfson Institute Postgraduate Dissemination Grant
  • 2012: NERC Isotope Geoscience Facility Steering Committee Pilot Grant (with Dr. Andrew Millard)
  • 2011: Department of Archaeology Bursary, Durham University