Unlocking the past: The role of dental analysis in archaeology

Dent Hist. 2015 Jul;60(2):51-62.

Abstract

What can the study of ancient teeth tell us about the life style and dietary habits of our ancestors? Dental palaeopathology is particularly important as it can provide direct evidence of the type of diet an individual consumed during life. An analysis of the angle of tooth wear evident on the crown of the tooth can help to distinguish between early hunter-gatherers and later agriculturists, whilst microwear features on the occlusal surface can help to discern subtle dietary shifts. The distributions of stable isotopes in food webs make it possible to use them to reconstruct ancient diets as well as tracing the geographic origins and migrations of peoples. Plant microfossils have been isolated from calculus which can be identified using light microscopy. Teeth are particularly useful in ancient DNA studies due to the excellent preservation of biomaterials within the enamel shell of the tooth.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • DNA / analysis
  • Diet / history
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Paleodontology*
  • Periodontal Diseases / history
  • Tooth Diseases / history*

Substances

  • DNA