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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Janet Montgomery

Beaumont, J. & Montgomery, J. (2015). Oral Histories: a simple method of assigning chronological age to isotopic values from human dentine collagen. Annals of Human Biology 42(4): 407-414.

Author(s) from Durham


Background: Stable isotope ratios of carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) in bone and dentine collagen have been used for over 30 years to estimate palaeodiet, subsistence strategy, breastfeeding duration and migration within burial populations. Recent developments in dentine microsampling allow improved temporal resolution for dietary patterns.

Aim: A simple method is proposed which could be applied to human teeth to estimate chronological age represented by dentine microsamples in the direction of tooth growth, allowing comparison of dietary patterns between individuals and populations. The method is tested using profiles from permanent and deciduous teeth of two individuals.

Subjects and methods: Using a diagrammatic representation of dentine development by approximate age for each human tooth (based on the Queen Mary University of London Atlas), this study estimated the age represented by each dentine section. Two case studies are shown: comparison of M1 and M2 from a 19th century individual from London, England, and identification of an unknown tooth from an Iron Age female adult from Scotland.

Results and conclusions: The isotopic profiles demonstrate that variations in consecutively-forming teeth can be aligned using this method to extend the dietary history of an individual or identify an unknown tooth by matching the profiles.