Monday, July 10, 2023

Teeth Now Being Used to Help Determine Sex of Ancient Humans


Today's post is about both dentistry and tech, which as most of you know are two of my greatest passions.

Late last week I happen to come across an article about an ancient tomb from the Copper Age.  It seems that the tomb contained the remains of someone very important to their group/tribe/society.  The body was buried with an elephant's tusk, a crystal dagger, an ivory comb, a flint dagger inlaid with amber, and an ostrich egg shell, the person was assumed to be a person of great importance who had traveled to faraway lands.  The remains were examined and thought to be those of a male 17-25 years of age.  The body became known as "the ivory man".

The remains were scientifically examined, but DNA forensics on very old remains is difficult.  The material breaks down over time, especially in warmer climates.  In this case, the gender was determined using a visual inspection of the pelvic bones.  Generally speaking, female pelvises are wider to allow for babies to pass more easily through the birth canal.  The problem with that type of identification is that it is not always accurate.  In many cases it becomes a case of "best guess with available data" (my term).

The dental aspect of this now comes into play.  Most of us know that enamel is the hardest material in the human body.  That means it doesn't break down as easily as other chemicals, so it can be found much more readily in skeletal remains.  The other thing that comes into play is the scientific ability to detect amelogenin.  This is a peptide that is only found in females.  Basically when you perform the analysis, if you have amelogenin, the remains are female.

Scientists re-examined using this new technique (available since 2017) and it was determined that The Ivory Man is actually The Ivory Woman.  

If you'd like to read more about this tomb, its discovery, and its impact on scientific thinking, you can check this article on CNN or you can follow this link to  

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