Beyond food: The multiple pathways for inclusion of materials into ancient dental calculus

Anita Radini, Efthymia Nikita, Stephen Buckley, Les Copeland, Karen Hardy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


© 2017 American Association of Physical Anthropologists Dental calculus (mineralized dental plaque) was first recognised as a potentially useful archaeological deposit in the 1970s, though interest in human dental calculus as a resource material has increased sharply in the past few years. The majority of recent research has focused on the retrieval of plant microfossils embedded in its matrix and interpretation of these finds as largely the result of deliberate consumption of plant-derived food. However, while most of the material described in published works does represent food, dental calculus is in fact a “depositional environment” as material can enter the mouth from a range of sources. In this respect, it therefore represents an archaeological deposit that can also contain extensive non-dietary debris. This can comprise a wide variety of cultural and environmental material which reaches the mouth and can become embedded in dental calculus through alternative pathways. Here, we explore the human behaviors and activities besides eating that can generate a flux of particles into the human mouth, the broad range of additional cultural and environmental information that can be obtained through the analysis and contextualisation of this material, and the implications of the additional pathways by which material can become embedded in dental calculus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-83
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • dental calculus
  • diet
  • environment
  • microfossils


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