Gaynor Western and Jelena Bekvalac
Oxbow Books, £19.99
ISBN 978-1789253221
Review Sophie Newman

Forged from a project funded by the City of London Archaeological Trust, this volume weaves together archaeological, historical, and modern-day public health data, resulting in an impressive resource for understanding the health of Londoners past and present. Focusing on data collected from human skeletal remains of nearly 2,400 individuals from 24 pre-industrial (1066–1750) and industrial (1750–1900) sites across Britain, it implements cutting-edge digital radiographic and computerised tomography (CT) analysis on an unprecedented scale.

This riveting journey through the history of London’s industrialisation is directed through chapters dedicated to five key themes in public health. High-quality illustrations depict the changing landscape of occupational health, air pollution, infectious disease, cancer, dietary and lifestyle habits, and ageing, over time and space. Rich historical accounts of topics such as the history of tobacco use, and a wide range of sources such as Coroners’ records, generate a narrative of the often-colourful experiences of past lives – memorably the unfortunate individual ‘killed by cheese’ in 1814. Alongside accessible explanations of how we can glean demography, disease, and diet from human skeletal remains, the importance of retaining these assemblages as modern technology develops is highlighted.

This timely addition to Britain’s industrial history incorporates a unique emphasis on modern-day population health, stressing that the hierarchical society shaped by the growing industrial machine continues to impact on health today. Some adverse effects of industrialisation have been reversed, while others prevail. The authors provide a stark and insightful warning that we should not look to the past for evidence of progression, but to comprehend how we continue to mould our own ‘manufactured bodies’, and impending public health crises. Concluding poignantly that we are still writing the next chapter of ‘post-industrial London’, this multifaceted volume is must-read for all those interested in osteoarchaeology, the impact of industrialisation, and health trends in the past and today.


This review appeared in CA 363. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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