Proteomic evidence of dietary sources in ancient dental calculus

Jessica Hendy, Christina Warinner, Abigail Bouwman, Matthew J Collins, Sarah Fiddyment, Roman Fischer, Richard Hagan, Courtney A Hofman, Malin Holst, Eros Chaves, Lauren Klaus, Greger Larson, Meaghan Mackie, Krista McGrath, Amy Z Mundorff, Anita Radini, Huiyun Rao, Christian Trachsel, Irina M Velsko, Camilla F Speller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Archaeological dental calculus has emerged as a rich source of ancient biomolecules, including proteins. Previous analyses of proteins extracted from ancient dental calculus revealed the presence of the dietary milk protein β-lactoglobulin, providing direct evidence of dairy consumption in the archaeological record. However, the potential for calculus to preserve other food-related proteins has not yet been systematically explored. Here we analyse shotgun metaproteomic data from 100 archaeological dental calculus samples ranging from the Iron Age to the post-medieval period (eighth century BC to nineteenth century AD) in England, as well as 14 dental calculus samples from contemporary dental patients and recently deceased individuals, to characterize the range and extent of dietary proteins preserved in dental calculus. In addition to milk proteins, we detect proteomic evidence of foodstuffs such as cereals and plant products, as well as the digestive enzyme salivary amylase. We discuss the importance of optimized protein extraction methods, data analysis approaches and authentication strategies in the identification of dietary proteins from archaeological dental calculus. This study demonstrates that proteomic approaches can robustly identify foodstuffs in the archaeological record that are typically under-represented due to their poor macroscopic preservation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20180977
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1883
Early online date18 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018 The Authors.


  • Archaeology
  • DNA, Ancient/analysis
  • Dental Calculus/chemistry
  • Diet/history
  • England
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Proteome
  • Dietary reconstruction
  • Dental calculus
  • Proteomics
  • Mass spectrometry

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