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The Sustainability of Dental Calculus for Archaeological Research

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Title of host publicationShallow Pasts, Endless Horiozons: Sustainability & Archaeology
DateSubmitted - 2016
DateAccepted/In press - 22 Jan 2017
DatePublished (current) - 16 Feb 2017
Pages74-81
Number of pages8
EditorsJulien Favreau, Robert Patalano
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Dental calculus is a mineralized plaque biofilm formed by microbiota of the oral microbiome. Until recently, the vast research potential of dental calculus for archaeological study was not fully appreciated and it was often discarded. It is now recognized that dental calculus entombs and preserves valuable microfossils and biomolecules within its matrix. While microscopic and bimolecular analysis of calculus is destructive, judicious sampling of relatively small quantities of material can provide unique information on ancient health and diet. Additionally, dental calculus is not classified as human tissue, but as an ectopic growth, and in some cases may provide an alternative approach to the destructive analysis of human skeletal remains. We present a case study recovering proteins, DNA and microscopic debris from Roman Age individuals to demonstrate the important insights into diet, health and disease that can be obtained from even minute quantities of dental calculus.

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© 2017 The Chacmool Archaeological Association of the University of Calgary

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