UCD Archaeologist Dr Anita Radini Receives Prestigious Dan David Prize

28th February 2023

Posted In: So In Demand

The Dan David Prize, the largest history prize in the world, today announced University College Dublin (UCD) Archaeologist, Dr Anita Radini, as one of nine recipients for 2023.

Each of the winners – who work in Kenya, Denmark, Israel, Canada, the US and Ireland – will receive $300,000 (USD) in recognition of their achievements as emerging scholars and to support their future endeavours in the study of the human past.

Dr Radini is the first in Ireland to receive this award.

“Our winners represent the next generation of historians,” said Ariel David, board member of the Prize and son of the late founder.

“They are changing our understanding of the past by asking new questions, targeting under-researched topics and using innovative methods.

Many of the winners we are recognising today are in the early stages of their careers, but they have already challenged how we think about history. Understanding the past, in all its complexity, is critical to illuminating the present and confronting the challenges of the future.”

Dan David, the founder of the Prize, believed that knowledge of the past enriches us and helps us grapple with the challenges of the present. David lived through persecution in Nazi-occupied and then Communist Romania, becoming an accomplished photographer and later an entrepreneur and philanthropist.

The Dan David Prize Selection Committee said:

“Anita Radini is developing novel techniques to track the artists and craftspeople of ancient times by their skeletal remains.

In addition, Radini studies the elements present in dental calculus in order to obtain data on diet, activities and health. This is a radically pioneering line of research with extraordinary potential to answer fundamental questions about the lifestyles and environmental contexts of past populations.

Radini’s multi-disciplinary approach to past diet, environment and health has important implications for society today.”

Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact and incoming University President said: “I congratulate Dr Anita Radini on this very prestigious award. It is wonderful to see a UCD archaeologist recognised on such a global and high-profile platform. We are very proud of Anita’s research and I look forward to seeing it continue to flourish.”

While we may be familiar with ancient monuments and artwork that exemplify ancient craft skills, the crafters themselves often remain invisible. An Archaeological Scientist and Human Palaeoecologist at UCD School of Archaeology, Dr Radini analyses the tiny remains of dust in dental plaque on ancient people’s teeth to uncover more about their lives.

“Multiple aspects of an individual’s life history are preserved in their teeth for millennia.” Radini said. “These people were exposed to particular kinds of dirt when practising their crafts – wood carving, traditional leather work, fabric dyeing, etc. By approaching the human mouth as a ‘depositional environment’ and using Experimental Archaeology, we can reveal more about who they were and the conditions they worked in.”

In 2019, a unique discovery by Dr Radini and her colleagues helped to illuminate the role of women in mediaeval crafts and to challenge the widespread assumption that male monks were the sole producers of books in the Middle Ages.

The team identified particles of blue pigments in the dental plaque of a mediaeval woman’s remains as lapis lazuli, a stone more precious than gold at the time. These findings were the first to provide direct archaeological evidence from skeletal remains that women were involved in illustrating mediaeval manuscripts.

The study suggested potential to track other “dusty” crafts and reveal the invisible workforce behind many ancient forms of art. Dr Radini is currently developing novel methodologies to understand exposure to dirt and pollution and their links to health in past populations.

“Our knowledge of occupational health in ancient times is limited by paucity of historical texts and lack of specific markers on ancient skeletal remains.

My research aims to push the boundaries of how we approach labour division, by exploring health impacts and inequalities in past societies I believe we can gain valuable insights for our modern world.

Dust entrapped in teeth, combined with demographic (age/sex) and other osteoarchaeological parameters, can reveal many unknown aspects of past lives.”

The significant Dan David Prize fund will help Dr Radini to expand her work in this field and to create a better understanding of how labour division and crafts affect health through time.

“I am thrilled to receive this prize and deeply honoured to be recognised among leading scholars of the human past from all over the world. I am particularly delighted to see the great diversity of studies and people that were awarded the prize.”

Projects from this year’s Dan David Prize recipients include a virtual reality tour of mediaeval Angkor Wat and a digital archive of disappearing architecture in Kenya, as well as explorations of interfaith rifts after the Holocaust, illicit sexuality in colonial Nigeria and white women’s complicity in slave ownership in the US South.

All nine winners for 2023 will be honoured at the Dan David Prize Award Ceremony in Tel Aviv this May. The recipients were selected from hundreds of nominations submitted by colleagues, institutions and the general public in a worldwide open nomination process.

To learn more about the Dan David Prize you can visit here>>