Stable Carbon and Nitrogen Isotopes in Dental Calculus useful in Paleo-Dietary Analysis

Scientists have often depended upon materials like bone collagen, hair, muscle and finger nails for the purpose of paleo-dietary analysis. However, it is difficult to find them. Moreover, they decompose easily. Using bone for these kinds of research is a tedious task as the bone has to be repeatedly treated with acid baths to obtain the collagen. This process is expensive and many a times, the bone is entirely destroyed. Therefore, the museum curators often deny permission to use the bone for paleo-dietary research. However, in a new breakthrough, scientists from University of Nevada have used stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes present in the dental calculus to find out about the diets of ancient civilizations.

In a research published in the Journal of Archeological Science, Richard Scott, an associate professor of Anthropology at the College of Liberal Arts and Simon Poulson, a research professor of geological sciences in the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering found that dental plaque removed from teeth of skeletons belonging to ancient civilizations contain sufficient quantities of isotopes of carbon and nitrogen to give clue about the diet of these people. They found that nitrogen isotopes were abundant in the plaques derived from people who were predominantly non-vegetarians. Similarly, carbon isotopes gave a clue about the types of plants that were included in the diet.

For their research, Scott collected samples of dental calculus from the teeth of 58 skeletons buried in the Cathedral of Santa Maria in northern Spain. The skeletons belonged to a period between 11th and 19th centuries. He sent five of these samples to the University’s Stable Isotope Lab where Poulson analyzed the amount of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes present in them using mass spectrometer. It was seen that the isotope ratios found in the sample were similar to those found in bone collagen studies. The Alaskan Inuit calculus contained a high amount of nitrogen isotopes as they consumed a diet rich in marine food. According to the researchers, dental calculus may provide a non-destructive source of stable isotopes and may be used for paleo-dietary research even in the absence of other biomaterials.



Wednesday, June 13, 2012
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