Monday, October 11, 2010

Teeth: the Historians of the Body

Thanks to Shakira, we all know that "hips don't lie".  While we each have our own experiences regarding the deceptiveness of hips, today's post proves to us that teeth don't lie.  In fact, the teeth are key players in piecing together some of history's mysteries. 

In 2005, archeologists discovered the "Boy with the Amber Necklace" buried within 3 miles of Stonehenge.  They estimate him to be about 14 years old at the time of his death, and surmise that he was an important individual based on his rare jewelry.

 Recently scientists were able to pinpoint where this boy came from - thanks to his teeth! explains the process as follows:
As tooth enamel forms in the first few years of childhood, it stores a chemical record of the environment in which the individual lives. Two of the chemical elements found in the enamel (oxygen and strontium) exist in different forms, or isotopes.
The levels of the isotopes found in enamel are informative to scientists analyzing them.
Most oxygen in teeth and bone comes from drinking water -- which is derived from rain or snow. In warmer climates, drinking water contains higher levels of heavy oxygen (O-18), compared to light oxygen (O-16) found in cold climates. So comparing the oxygen isotope ratio in teeth with that of drinking water from different regions can provide information about the climate in which a person grew up.
Strontium -- found in most rocks in small amounts -- also varies according to local geology. The isotope ratio of strontium in a person’s teeth can provide information on the geological area from which an individual lived as a child.
By combining the analysis of both elements in the teeth, archaeologists can point out particular regions where a person may have been raised.
 This has helped shed some light on the importance of Stonehenge.  It turns out that the Boy with the Amber Necklace came from the area of the Mediterranean Sea. Another Stonehenge corpse, known as the "Ansbury Archer" underwent the same testing, and his teeth revealed him to be from the Alpine Hills of Germany.


Also of interest is this article from the Guardian.

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