Postgraduate Research Archaeology Symposium

Christianne Ferneé (2016)

Keywords: Dental anthropology, variation, bioarchaeology, micro-CT, visual anthropology


Teeth are an ideal tool for modelling past environmental and cultural interactions. They are durable, a permanent repository for unique identifying features and outlasting other skeletal material. These characteristics are yet to be fully exploited and teeth have by no means been exhausted as a source of information. Hidden during life, tooth roots and the internal structure of the tooth have largely been ignored, despite offering a wealth of information. Whilst comparisons have taken place across populations, intra-dentition variation has often been assumed. Dental research has been hindered by the absence of tooth crown information that has been obliterated by wear, common in archaeological populations. Current investigations of environmental and cultural interactions largely employ speculative or destructive methods. State-of-the-art non-destructive methods such as micro computed tomography (micro-CT) can uncover the hidden secrets of teeth, revealing their internal and external structure in fine detail and allowing their comparison as complex shapes.

This research aims to understand tooth variation within individuals and across populations. It also aims to develop a method to reconstruct whole tooth crowns from worn or broken crowns. The internal and external structure of the tooth will be studied using micro-CT. Data will be analysed using traditional morphometric and geometric morphometric analyses, variation compared within and between archaeological and modern populations. Variation will be considered alongside a number of biological, environmental and cultural factors. This research will enable models of dietary patterns and social interactions to be developed, and uncover an abundance of information previously lost to tooth wear