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Durham University

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Publication details for Dr P Chazot

Quade, Leslie, Chazot, Paul & Gowland, Rebecca (2020). Desperately seeking stress: A pilot study of cortisol in archaeological tooth structures. American Journal of Physical Anthropology

Author(s) from Durham


Objectives: Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone produced through activation of the
hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. It is known as the “stress hormone” for its primary
role in the body's stress response and has been the focus of much modern clinical
research. Within archaeology, only a few studies have analyzed cortisol in human
remains and these have been restricted to hair (Webb et al., 2010; Webb, White, van
Uum, & Longstaffe, 2015a; Webb, White, van Uum, & Longstaffe, 2015b). This study
examines the utility of dentine and enamel, which survive well archaeologically, as
possible reservoirs for detectable levels of cortisol.
Materials and methods: Then, 69 teeth from 65 individuals from five Roman and
Post-Roman sites in France were tested via competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent
assay (ELISA) to assess and quantify the cortisol concentrations present within
tooth dentine and enamel.
Results: In both tooth dentine and enamel, detectable concentrations of cortisol were
identified in multiple teeth. However, concentrations were low and not all teeth
yielded results that were measurable through cortisol ELISA. Differences in cortisol
values between dentine and enamel could suggest different uptake mechanisms or
Discussion: These results suggest that cortisol is incorporated within tooth structures
and merits further investigation in both modern and archaeological contexts. Analysis
of the results through liquid chromatographic–mass spectrometry would verify current
results and might yield values that could be better integrated with published cortisol
studies. Future studies of cortisol in tooth structures would greatly expand the
research potential of cortisol in the past and could have implications for studies of
human stress across deep time.