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Willem Baetsen

Archaeology, University of Leicester

Thesis title:

The future up in smoke: The effects of tobacco use on population health in Europe in the 16th-19th centuries.

In the post-medieval period, we see a decline in population health in Europe during which infectious disease is gradually replaced by chronic disease as the main cause of death. During the same period, tobacco is introduced and gains in popularity in England and the Netherlands. Despite the known ill health effects of tobacco use today, the link between commodification of tobacco and the emergence of chronic disease has never been thoroughly investigated.

Aside from the disease and death caused by tobacco use directly, maternal exposure to tobacco during pregnancy can have a profound influence on the developing foetus. It has long been known that smoking during the early stages of pregnancy can adversely influence foetal health. Maternal tobacco exposure during early pregnancy (especially during organogenesis) can cause a wide variety of complications, including congenital disease and anomalies.

Significantly, detrimental effects of tobacco exposure during the foetal stage do not end in early infancy. Those that are not fatal in infancy may cause health problems in later life. If the development of an individual is delayed during the foetal stage, no catch-up growth is evident until at least the age of 11 years. Chronic disease develops slowly, and the more risk factors are encountered in life, the higher susceptibility to disease associated with affluence becomes. Adversity in early life can thus significantly impact health in adult life, and therefore population health.

Some congenital anomalies are already routinely documented during osteological assessment as ‘non-metric traits’, morphological deviations from the physiological ‘norm’, recorded as different phenotypic expressions. The aetiology of these traits is largely unknown, but may develop as a result of environmental influences during early foetal development (i.e. epigenetics). Non-metric traits are expected to not have had a direct influence on health but might be indicative of early-life ill health. Therefore, different prevalence rates before and after the introduction of tobacco – and between users and non-users – can identify exposure to tobacco as a potential causative agent.

The results of this project will provide valuable insight into the long-term effects of tobacco on population health, which will shed light on current tobacco use, the world’s leading cause of preventable disease and premature death.

Research Area

  • Archaeology

Publications

  • Dediu, D., S.R. Moisik, W.A. Baetsen, A.M. Bosman & A.L. Waters, 2021. The vocal tract as a time machine: Inferences about past speech and language from the anatomy of the speech organs. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 376: 20200192. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2020.0192.

  • Baetsen, W.A. & G. Zielman (eds), 2020. Wat de nieuwe Sint Jansbeek boven water bracht: Dood en leven in het Arnhemse verleden; Archeologisch onderzoek Sint Jansbeek te Arnhem, volume 2: Menselijk botmateriaal, bioarcheologisch onderzoek en grafgebruiken. RAAP report 4476-2. RAAP Archeologisch Adviesbureau B.V., Weesp (NL).

  • G. Zielman & W.A. Baetsen (eds), 2020. Wat de nieuwe Sint Jansbeek boven water bracht: Dood en leven in het Arnhemse verleden; Archeologisch onderzoek Sint Jansbeek te Arnhem, volume 1: Sporen, vondsten en hun context. RAAP report 4476-1. RAAP Archeologisch Adviesbureau B.V., Weesp (NL).

  • Baetsen, S., W.A. Baetsen, M. Defilet & G. Zielman, 2018. Sint-Jansbeek brengt Oude Kerkhof boven water: Graven bij de Arnhemse Eusebiuskerk. Archeologie in Nederland 2018(3): pp. 34-43.

  • Blom, A.A., S.A. Inskip, W.A. Baetsen & M.L.P. Hoogland, 2018. Testing the sternal clavicle method on a post-medieval Dutch skeletal collection. Archaeometry 60(6): pp. 1391-1402. DOI: 10.1111/arcm.12402.

  • Baetsen, W.A., 2016. Geometric morphometric analysis of the 'skeletal vocal tract': A first step in involving osteoarchaeology in the search for a potential 'genetic bias' for language, using two Dutch historical skeletal populations. Leiden University (unpublished MSc thesis), Leiden (NL).

Conferences

  • 'Geometric morphometric analysis of the 'skeletal vocal tract': A first step in involving osteoarchaeology in the search for a potential 'genetic bias' for language, using two Dutch historical skeletal populations' (poster presentation), MORPH2017: A conference on the archaeological applications of morphometrics, Aarhus University, Aarhus (Denmark), 4-5 May 2017.

  • '3D-visualisaties & 3D-vormanalyse in de archeologie: Wat kunnen we verder nog met 3D-modellen?' (oral presentation), Tot op het bot uitgezocht, Keyzerkerk, Middenbeemster (The Netherlands), 12 December 2015.

Public Engagement & Impact

  • October 2019. Appearing on a talkshow on death in the past at 'Herman Centraal' in Arnhem, speaking about death in medieval and post-medieval times, and giving a live demonstration of how to anatomically display a human skeleton.

  • April - November 2018. Several lectures (in both a public and private setting) on the archaeology and history of medieval and post-medieval Arnhem (the Netherlands), including:

    • Open Day for volunteers who assisted the excavation and post-ex process;

    • Series of Open Evenings for interested members of the public, including lectures and workshops on osteoarchaeological subjects;

    • Weekend of Science and National Archaeology Days, including an introductory lecture and osteoarchaeological workshops for children between the ages of 8 and 14 years;

    • Lecture on medical care and results of the excavation in Arnhem in the 'Historical Inn' in Arnhem (local historical society).

  • March - April 2018. ArcheoHotspots Facebook livestream appearances during post-ex work on the medieval and post-medieval skeletal collection from the St Eusebius churchyard in Arnhem, the Netherlands.

  • July - September 2017. ArcheoHotspots Facebook livestream appearances during excavation of a medieval and post-medieval St Eusebius churchyard in Arnhem, the Netherlands.


Other Research Interests

  • 3D scanning and modelling
  • Public engagement in archaeology

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