July 12, 2011

How to Section Teeth

In preparation for a visit to my friendly geochemistry lab bright and early tomorrow morning, I had to section two teeth this evening.  They're both third molars from female immigrants to Rome, and I'll be processing them for strontium isotope ratios this week.  Since the first molars only told me these two individuals immigrated to Rome some time after birth, I'm hoping that the third molars will either narrow down the age at which they immigrated or will show that they immigrated somewhere else before arriving at Rome.  This is all in service of a paper I'm writing for this year's EAA conference with archaeological chemists Rob Tykot and Janet Montgomery.

So I thought I'd reprise a post that I wrote almost exactly three years ago: a how-to (with video!) for sectioning teeth using a Buehler saw.  If you have this amazingly expensive saw and some archaeological teeth lying around (or your kid's baby teeth, whatevs), read on to learn how to cut them into pieces without reducing them to dust.



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 Lee Boushell 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 dental drill to get 5-10mg of enamel. Since I was sectioning some teeth today, I documented my afternoon.

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 it doesn't play, drop me a line - it may mean that Google video no longer works.)

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