Medical treatments in medieval leprosaria. Exploring healing remedies through dental calculus analysis

Medieval Medicine & Leprosaria

From the 11th century, leprosaria were founded as a mitigative response to the risk of infection. The disease is thought to have reached its height during the 12th and 13th centuries and later declined from the 14th century onward.

Unfortunately, leprosy hospitals are not generally well documented, nor have they been excavated. Little is known about the size of these establishments or the methods used to diagnose and treat leprosy. The medical treatment of patients, in particular, is controversial.

Dental Calculus

Ancient human dental calculus represents a unique archaeological record. It provides evidence for health and hygiene, dietary and non-dietary habits, and the lifestyle of past populations.

Traces of food and environmental microdebris including starch grains, phytoliths, pollen, and fungal spores, as well as plant fibres and animal micro-remains may also be incorporated.

aDNA analysis of tartar has also provided exceptional data on the evolution of the oral microbiome and dietary information. Moreover, it holds potential to assess the presence of pathogens in past individuals.


Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is an infection caused by the bacilli Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. Transmission of the disease is caused by the inhalation of droplets from the nose and the mouth during contact with infected people.

Bioarchaeologists are able to recognise this condition in archaeological human remains because of skeletal changes in the cranial and postcranial bones, although it only affects up to 3-5% of people in their skeleton.