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Archaeological Dentistry and its relationship with Oral Pathology

Paolo Debertolis1, Niccolò Bisconti2

1Department of Medical Sciences - University of Trieste

2Department of Archaeology and Art History - University of Siena


Summary - The Institution of Italy ran a Course of Dentistry that like in other parts of the world, gave dentists the interdisciplinary skills of medicine and dentistry. Prior to this, legal medical doctors were not given a deep enough knowledge of Odontology (Dental Anthropology) in their training. Today the use of methodologies from Dental Anthropology and Odontology science in archaeology is called Archaeological Dentistry. Archaeological Dentistry is not a science in its own right, but forms part of a multidisciplinary process to resolve a historic problem.

The odontologist make a contribution to archaeology through knowledge of pathologies, food customs, the size of bodies found in archaeological sites whilst caring to resolve the legal case. The bones like teeth “speak” and can reveal many things about their owner. The bones could undergo a lot of decay, but as tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, teeth are the last elements to decay. The purpose of the odontologist in an archaeological environment is to supply a lot of information to best estimate the people who lived in that archaeological site.
For analysing and dating a site, the archaeologist has a lot of possibilities, for example radiocarbon 14 dating, stratigraphy of digging and historic sources. Further, the archaeologist needs to be aware of the possibility of superimposition of different cultures on the same site. For this reason the help of a medical anthropologist and odontologist can make a substantial contribution when evaluating archaeological sites. 
With thanks to the Department of Medical Science at the University of Trieste and with the collaboration of our archaeologists and legal doctors, our research group has begun a diligent study for the resolution of oral pathology cases in bodies found in archaeological sites from Italy and East Europe. This study has begun to describe a new interesting and more specific chapter in the history of medicine through better dental competence. In this paper, we highlight some archaeological and dental cases resolved by our knowledge.
For example during our researches in Bosnia-Herzegovina between 2010-11, working in collaboration with the Museum of Visoko (Zenica-Doboj Canton).  We discovered that during the period of the Ottoman Empire domination, people retained their ancient customs of burying their people near stećak, a very ancient monumental stone typical of this region. This fact it is very important because these stones are oriented to the North and not to Mecca as you would find in a normal Muslim cemetery.  Using a medical-anthropologic approach, this discovery could change our historic knowledge regarding the religion of this population.


Poster connected to presentation in .jpg format (Italian language)

Proceedings in the Congress “XX° Congresso Nazionale - Collegio dei Docenti di Odontoiatria”,  Roma, April 18-20, 2013 (

Publisced by: Collegio dei Docenti di Odontoiatria (Institutional Web Site)

Secretary: fasi s.r.l.,via R. Venuti 73 - 00162 Roma





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