UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Dental calculus in the industrial age : Human dental calculus in the Post-Medieval period, a case study from industrial Manchester MacKenzie, Lisa; Speller, Camilla F.; Holst, Malin; Keefe, Katie; Radini, Anita


The analysis of dental calculus (mineralised dental plaque) has become an increasingly important facet of bioarchaeological research. Although microscopic analysis of microdebris entrapped within dental calculus has revealed important insights into the diet, health, and environment of multiple prehistoric populations, relatively few studies have examined the contributions of this approach to more recent historical periods. In this study, we analyze dental calculus from an English Post-Medieval, middle-class urban skeletal assemblage from Manchester, England using light microscopy. We characterize all types of microremains, observing heavily damaged starch and plant material, high quantities of fungal and yeast spores, the presence of wood particles, plant (cotton) and animal (wool) fibres, as well as limited quantities of microcharcoal and burnt debris. We observe the presence of non-native, imported plant products, including New World maize and potentially tapioca starch. We compare our results to similar studies from earlier time periods to reveal the impacts of the significant economic, social and environmental changes occurring during the Industrial period in England, including changes in food processing, food access, food storage, and air quality. We conclude by outlining important methodological considerations for the future study of Post-Medieval dental calculus and propose potential areas of future research.

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