Monday, November 29, 2010

Oh, what I'd give for one of Hild's teeth!

Eadgyth and Otto, Cathedral of Magdeburg
Wikimedia Commons

I am utterly jealous of those who study or write about Queen Eadgyth (pronounced by many as Edith). Edith was a tenth century Saxon queen. That is, she belongs three hundred years or so after Hild. Anyway, thanks to the niftiness of tooth enamel and its propensity to sequester strontium ions, Dr. Alistair Pike in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Bristol has been able to confirm a few supposed things about Eadgyth.

From written sources, we know:

Eadgyth was the granddaughter of Alfred the Great and the half-sister of Athelstan, the first acknowledged King of England. She was sent to marry Otto, King of Saxony, in AD 929, and bore him at least two children, before her death, at around the age of 36, in AD 946. Buried in the monastery of St Maurice in Magdeburg, historical records state that her bones were moved on at least three occasions before being interred in an elaborate tomb in Magdeburg Cathedral in 1510.

(thanks, Lisa)

We know a few other things, such as she was peripatetic in her first few years, moving with the royal household from vill to vill, as courts did. Then her parents divorced, and she and her mother spent time in an abbey or monastery. This is corroborated by the analysis of her tooth enamel.

I would give a lot--perhaps even some of my special blueberry and apple crumble made by Kelley's fair hand--to see an analysis of one of Hild's teeth. It might tell us where she was born (we don't know), where she lived between the ages of 18 and 33 (we don't know), what kinds of things she ate (we don't know), perhaps even whether she had children (we-- ah, never mind). That last, the children thing, is pure speculation, but I'm guessing that nine months' pregnancy in the seventh century would entail a certain physiological demand that might show up in the enamel record. (Anyone know?)

But, oh, the things we could learn from a tooth. We'll never find one of Hild's of course: we don't know where she's buried.

But I don't have time to moon over what will never be. I have to crack on with my novel. Right now I have 800 pages, 166,000 words, of the first draft. Of the first of three novels. And I'm not nearly done. What we know of Hild could probably fit on one page. But I've never let that get in the way...

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