Europe, UK, Ireland

Teeth reveal important clues into diet of Irish potato famine victims

Clues into the Irish population’s diet during the Irish potato famine were discovered in new research carried out on the teeth of famine victims from the 1840s. The new research, headed up by the University of Edinburgh, carried out scientific analysis of dental calculus—plaque build-up— on the teeth of 42 victims. 

The analysis revealed that the diet during the Irish potato famine involved corn (maize), oats, potato, wheat, and milk foodstuffs.

Surprisingly, the teeth of three of the victims showed evidence of egg protein in their diet, something that is more associated with diets of non-laboring or better off social classes at the time.

“The results of this study is consistent with the historical accounts of the Irish laborer’s diet before and during the Famine,” said Dr. Jonny Geber of the University of Edinburgh’s School of History, Classics, and Archaeology, one of the lead researchers. 

“It also shows how the notoriously monotonous potato diet of the poor was opportunistically supplemented by other foodstuffs, such as eggs and wheat, when made available to them.

Full report on Irish Central here