Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version

February 2007


Citation: Boyadjian CHC, Eggers S, Reinhard K (2007) Dental wash: a problematic method for extracting microfossils from teeth. Journal of Archaeological Science 34: 1622-1628.


A variety of microfossils, originating from plant foods, become trapped in the dental calculus matrix. Processing of dental calculus allows extraction of these microfossils. The resulting data can be used to reconstruct diet at the individual and population levels as the identification of microfossils like starch grains and phytoliths to the generic level, and sometimes to the species level, is possible. However, in some archaeological sites, dental calculus deposits do not preserve well enough to be processed. To prevent the loss of information in such cases, we present a technique, called ‘‘dental wash’’. It permits extracting microfossils from cryptic dental calculus deposits. In the two experimental archaeological cases presented herein we identified phytoliths, starch grains as well as a diatom fragment with this method, whereas in a control sample no microfossils were found. Moderate damage to the teeth was detected when they were already friable due to poor preservation. Minor damage to the surface of well-preserved teeth was observed. This indicates that the proposed method is efficient in recovering microfossils, but unacceptable because of damage to teeth. If the method can be refined, it will expand the potential of dental calculus analysis to a greater range of archeological sites.