Tobacco, Health and History (THH) Seminar

January 23rd and 24th , 2023

We were delighted to host a number of collaborators and guests at College Court for two days of discussions about the project. We took the opportunity to present research that we have recently published, current findings, as well as think about the future.  

Sarah Inskip kicked off day 1 by reminding attendees about the aims and goals of the project followed by the current status of the project. In particular, we have had the opportunity to expand the number of skeletons that we will look at from St James’ Gardens in London, and will include material from Leicester Cathedral. Sadly, due to time lost in covid, we will no longer have time to assess material from Spain as part of this round of research, but hope to get back to it in the future.  

Sarah also outlined the recent publications from the project, which are interdisciplinary and published in various locations. Already available open access is our research on the oral microbiome and pipe smoking, the impact of pipe smoking on dental health, and demonstrating the feasibility of getting metabolites from archaeological human bone. In addition, we are awaiting the publication of a book chapter that explores relationship between identity and tobacco consumption in industrial Britain, one on metabolomics and historical tobacco, and one on the alternative uses of clay tobacco pipes. So watch this space! 

The day was then filled with talks from the THH team outlining preliminary results. Anna Davies Barrett discussed the relationship between major diseases and tobacco consumption as made visible through pipe notches and lingual staining. Early results show a variable effect depending on where you lived, but we have yet to include metabolomics data. Maia Casna, a PhD student from Leiden who has been working with Anna, discussed their collaborative work on the recording of rib lesions and sinusitis. They have shown that the interobserver error is a cause for concern in respiratory studies if we wish to compare data between researchers. They are hoping to work on this issue in the upcoming months. Diego Badillo-Sanchez presented the results of the first set of metabolomics analysis on the 500 samples from our British material. He has been able to create a model that helps us identify those that used tobacco and those that have not. Future research will now look at the identification of the molecules driving the differences.  

We had a number of collaborators talking about our work together. Christiana Scheib, discussed our feasibility study on obtaining metabolites from dentine. This shows promise but needs a bit more work going forward. Luke Gent, from the Forensi-omics team presented their research on proteomics and metabolomics on body farm material highlighting the issues caused by maceration techniques. Biancamaria Bonucci from the University of Tartu discussed the oral microbiome and dental calculus from a number of our sites, showing that the preservation is good and we can continue with our analysis. Anita Radini presented results from Belgian material of known pipe smokers, showing that there is evidence for burnt remains trapped in the calculus. On Day two, Richard Ansell (UoL) presented his research on tobacco and othering based on- British travellers diaries to Spain. Finally, Judith Lopez Aceves, a new PhD student at Leicester, discussed here project looking at intoxicant use in the Caribbean, where she aims to reconstruct indigenous use from an interdisciplinary study of historical sources and chemical analysis. We look forward to hearing more about this work in the future!  

The two days were wrapped up with plenty of discussions of how to move forward. In particular, we focused on multivariate analysis of data, interobserver error issues, how to get the most out of dental calculus and the problems of using pipe notches as an indicator of pipe smoking. Thanks to all those that attended and participated in person and online. We really appreciate your support and advice!  

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