Link: A historic mystery about blue specks on teeth

A new article in The Atlantic by Sarah Zhang looks at some fascinating detective work on ancient teeth by Christina Warriner and Anita Radini: “Why a Medieval Woman Had Lapis Lazuli Hidden in Her Teeth”.

The study of microscopic and chemical remains that are embedded in ancient dental calculus has become very important to understanding prehistoric diets, health, and lifestyles. What a lot of readers might be less aware of is the way that they can inform about much more recent, historic populations.

If pigments can be preserved in tartar—the gunky yellow stuff on teeth that dental plaque hardens into—that means that fibers, metals, and other dyes could be, too. “This is genuinely a big deal,” says Mark Clarke, a technical art historian at Nova University Lisbon who was not involved in the new study. You could imagine identifying metalworkers, carpenters, and other artisans from the particles embedded in tartar, Clarke says. “It’s opening up a new avenue in archaeology.”