July 17, 2008

Cutting Teeth

The first thing I have to do in order to prepare the ancient Roman teeth for strontium analysis is to section them. So I learned from a very nice dentist at the Dental School at UNC how to use a saw to do this - without having to embed each tooth in plastic or resin. The point of obtaining a thick section from the middle of the tooth is that I can theoretically get at the "good" enamel - the stuff at the dento-enamel junction, and therefore the stuff that will help me tell if an individual was originally from Rome or not. Once I get the middle section, I have to affix it to a slide and use a micromill (a very precise drill hooked up to a microscope and computer) to drill out 5-10mg of enamel. The micromill is automated, so the sample has to be nice and flat and held tightly to the moving platform. Since I was sectioning some teeth today, and since I will undoubtedly have to teach other archaeologists who want to do strontium analysis to section teeth, I documented my afternoon.

My last osteological movie on chopping ancient femora in half was a raging success, so I decided to make a video demonstration of sectioning ancient teeth using the spiffy saw I found a couple weeks ago. This is my first attempt at stitching together several smaller movies into one big movie - complete with title slide and credits - so let me know what you think (but be nice!). It's about 7.5 minutes long and includes an audio narration by me (plus the appearance of my ugly elbow and giant hands).

So the next time you find yourself cozied up to a lab saw with 200 old, dry teeth and seven days to kill, you too can cut them into thirds. Without further ado, allow me to present to you, "How to use a Buehler Isomet 1000 to section teeth." Break out the popcorn and enjoy!

(If the embedded video doesn't work, it means that google sucks. So click here instead.)


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