Dental Associates of Northern Virginia in Alexandria
1500 Belle View Boulevard, Alexandria, VA 22307

Archaeology and Dental Bioarchaeology

Archeology is the study of human life through the analysis of artifacts and other items discovered in ancient ruins. Through these objects, we’re able to learn how people lived, worked, and died in times past. People have always been interested in how their ancestors lived, but the field of archeology began to come into its own during the Renaissance, in the 15th and 16th centuries, when collecting artifacts and treasure-hunting became popular. In the 18th century, art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s work encouraged a shift in thinking that placed greater emphasis on an artifact’s place in historical context, not just its aesthetic value, giving rise to the modern field of archaology.

Bioarcheology became a separate division of this area of study in 1972. Grahame Clarke, an English archeologist, coined this term to define the study of animal bones found at archeological dig sites. In 1977, Jane Buikstra redefined the field as the study of human remains found at dig sites, while the study of animal bones became known as zooarcheology.

Analyzing human bones and teeth can reveal information about the health, age, and gender of the deceased. One important part of this area of research is dental bioarcheology, the study of teeth found at archeological sites. Teeth can provide a wealth of information. In modern dentistry, experts such as Alexandria dentists can learn what might have caused problems with your teeth and choose the best way to repair the damage, but in the field of bioarcheology, damage done to teeth is useful, as it can reveal information about a person’s eating habits and behaviors as well as their age at the time of death. A scientist specializing in dental bioarcheology is an expert in odontology, the scientific study of teeth, and can help to reveal a lot about human history through their efforts.

Bones and teeth last much longer than the rest of a body; they can even last centuries, depending on the conditions of the area where an archeologist finds them. Without a doubt, discovering them intact or partially intact is an excellent asset to any archeological investigation. The first thing a bioarchaeologist can learn from teeth is the person’s age when they died: If they were a child, this will be indicated by the pattern of teeth eruption seen in the jaw, and in an adult, indications of age can come from wear patterns in the enamel. Sets of remains can be compared in an area to get a sense of the average life expectancy at the time of their death.

In a few famous cases, the work of dental bioarchaeologists has changed the way we thought of past civilizations. For instance, burial sites near Stonehenge contained the remains of Beaker people, members of a group who lived around 2000 B.C., and isotope analysis of their tooth enamel helped to reveal details about their migration. This evidence showed that they most likely traveled to Stonehenge later on in their lives. Also, analysis of dental evidence from Pompeii has indicated that these people had very healthy, tooth-friendly diets, as their teeth were in near-perfect condition, better than those of people living today.

The field of dental science continues to evolve today, bringing us new insights about the past as well as new techniques that can be used to improve our future. Orthodontists in Alexandria, VA, and elsewhere owe a lot of their procedures to the innovative approaches used by their predecessors, and today, services such as Alexandria, VA, All-on-4 implants are available to make the lives of modern dental patients better. Further research can only lead to better approaches to both our analysis and understanding of the past and our treatment of dental issues of the future.

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