Scott, who is chair and associate professor of anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts, obtained samples of dental calculus from 58 skeletons buried in the Cathedral of Santa Maria in northern Spain from the 11th to the 19th centuries. His goal was to conduct research on the diet of this particular population. His first efforts led to mixed results, so he sent 5 samples of calculus to Poulson at the University of Nevada's Stable Isotope Lab. Poulson is research professor of geological sciences in the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering.
I'm not even going to pretend to understand what they did next (you can read more here and here), but in the end they were able to obtain stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios from the samples. This information allows the researchers to determine how much of this population's diet was made up of animal products and how much was plant based.
My favorite part of this whole article was the photo and its accompanying caption, which read: "Centuries ago, dental calculus would build up through the years, layer after layer, like a stalagmite, sometimes reaching impressive proportions." I think it's the use of the words "stalagmite" and "impressive proportions" to describe dental plaque that really got to me. Can you picture me wrinkling my nose and then running to share this with my colleagues? And then promptly heading to the ladies room to brush and floss?
Julie Cullen is Managing Editor of Dental Product Shopper