The examination of dental plates allows us to know the diet of ancient populations

The examination of dental plates allows us to know the diet of ancient populations

Research at the University of Nevada led by G. Richard Scott and Simon R. Poulson has found that the analysis of small particles of plaque removed from the denture of people from ancient civilizations and populations, can provide details on the diet they were eating.

Through samples of dental stones from 58 skeletons buried in the Cathedral of Santa Maria (Spain) belonging to a period that goes from 11th to 19th centuryScott began to develop research on the diet of this population. The first methodology developed by the researcher gave contradictory results, so sent five samples to Poulson, who examined them in the university's stable isotope laboratory. Their idea is that dental plaque might contain enough carbon and hydrogen to allow them to estimate a stable isotope ratio.

According to Scott: «Although it is complex chemistry, only proteins have nitrogen, so the more nitrogen present, the more animal products they consumed as part of their diet. Carbon provides information on the type of plants that took”. The analysis procedure is performed crushing the molecules and subjecting them to a spectrometer, which provides information on the different isotopes.

At first, none of the researchers thought that would there be enough carbon and nitrogen in those small samples to be measured. However, Dr. Poulson's work revealed that it was enough. Laboratory results showed stable ratios of carbon and nitrogen isotopes. These ratios are very similar to studies that use bone collagen, which is the typical material for this type of analysis.

Scott comments that the common practice of using bone to conduct this type of research is too expensive and damaging to the bone, requiring several acid baths to extract the collagen and analyze it. The process destroys bone, which is why museum curators do not allow it.

The investigator He also spoke about the possibility of applying this methodology with hair, muscles and nails. But he also clarified that “are good examples, as long as they can be found”. The problem is that they do not hold up well over the years and end up decomposing. This is not the case with dental calculus, which, for better or worse, lasts much longer.

Although Scott described the work done as “groundbreaking and innovative”, he was also quite criticalas further work is still needed to firmly establish this new method of using dental stones to paleodiethetic research. In any case, the results of this initial study indicate that it has great potential and that it could save a great amount of time and effort, at the same time that it would allow an in-depth analysis, even without the presence of hair, muscle or nails.


Passionate about History, he has a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication. Since he was a child he loved history and ended up exploring the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries above all.

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