Popular Science: How did the elite and serfs chew in the Great Moravian Empire?
Great Moravia was the first stable empire on the area of the Czech Republic and was spread across present-day Moravia, Slovakia and Hungary during the 9th century. One of the centers of power was the settlement of Mikulčice. On an area of 10 ha, ten churches, a princely palace and more than 2500 graves were discovered. The center of the settlement was fortified, separating the inhabitants of the castle from the partially fortified sub-castle inhabited by the middle and lower socioeconomic classes. The position of the graves and their grave items suggest that the society was highly socially stratified, but the real nature of the socioeconomic differences between the castle and sub-castle area is still not very clear. Naturally, the differences could relate to physical activity, diet or health care leaving marks on the human skeleton.
A previous study on the Mikulčice sample showed that there was a great difference in facial asymmetry between the populations of the castle and sub-castle which may have related to dietary differences. This was the baseline of the new study that focused on the socioeconomic differences between the two groups and between males and females. New markers directly relating to chewing were examined in this study: tooth wear, mandible shape and asymmetry of the mandible. Specific patterns of tooth wear carry information about the diet, eating habits and chewing side preference. However, age is also one of the factors affecting the level of tooth wear and thus must be taken into consideration. In addition, insertions of chewing muscles and masticatory load strongly affect the shape of the mandible.
Tooth wear was not significantly different between males and females and only weak differences were found between the castle and sub-castle populations. The sub-castle individuals had slightly greater tooth wear even though the sample contained only a small number of elderly people. This means that they ate more abrasive food than the inhabitants of the castle. There was no difference in the level of asymmetry of tooth wear and mandibular shape in relation to the sex and burial site, but the whole sample showed significant asymmetry with preferential chewing on the right side (Fig. 1) which is in accordance with the previous study. Great differences were found in the shape of the mandible between males and females from the castle and sub-castle. The differences were mainly in the regions where masticatory muscles insert to the bone. The individuals from the castle had these regions more pronounced, so the chewing muscles must have been more loaded (Fig. 2).
The lower level of tooth wear in the castle population could have been caused by a higher consumption of meat because of the softness and low-abrasivness of the meat. Furthermore, it is known to be a costly product that is eaten mainly by higher society. On the other hand, meat is tough and needs more effort to be processed, which is in accordance with the more developed muscle insertions on the mandible. Great dietary differences had been found earlier between the castle and the slightly distant rural population of the Mikulčice settlement. It is natural that the inhabitants of the castle and sub-castle show lower differences as the groups lived in close proximity. However, present research indicates that despite the close living area, these groups differed to a certain degree. Further research focusing on various aspects of life is necessary to clarify the relationships between social classes in the Great Moravian Empire.
Ibrová, A., Dupej, J., Stránská, P., Velemínský, P., Poláček, L., & Velemínská, J. (2017). Facial skeleton asymmetry and its relationship to mastication in the Early Medieval period (Great Moravian Empire, Mikulčice, 9th–10th century).Archives of oral biology, 84, 64-73.