The Holy Tooth

As January comes to an end, we are all still recovering from our Christmas-related, sugar-induced comma – we all know everyone has a bit of a sweet tooth. Talking about teeth – meet Cláudia Relvado, our resident ICArEHB 2nd year PhD student! Sounds like a random association doesn’t it? Let me explain why it makes perfect sense!

Cláudia is currently studying – guess what – teeth. Human teeth, actually. Her project is called “The holy tooth” and it aims to study childhood diet, health and mobility in the recent pre-history (Neolithic and Calcolithic) in Southern Portugal.

She has recently arrived from Copenhagen, where she stayed for 3 months, studying and working at the University of Copenhagen. At the University’s laboratory she learned how to do paleoproteomics. Oof, big word, right?

Paleoproteomics is a fairly recent science that studies, for example, the proteins in skeletal remains to identify species and understand the evolutionary relationships between extinct species. It can also be used to identify the sex of the human skeleton. Understanding the sex of human remains in archaeological contexts is essential to comprehend, for example, gender differences between occupational activities, diet or mobility. More specifically, Cláudia will use this methodology to understand if there was any difference between genders in food accessibility and mobility.

Fig. 1: One of the analysed teeth from Cláudia’s project. The scale is 1cm.

Using this methodology is not only great for Cláudia because it will give her good data, but it’s also quite a big deal. Cláudia’s project will be the first to apply Paleoproteomics for sexual diagnosis in pre-historic portuguese contexts and will be a key advancement to Archaeology in Portugal.

Course, learning this methodology and staying in Copenhagen is not cheap. Cláudia was able to get some extra funding – she won the 2021 ICArEHB’s Seed Fund and extra funding from FCT. The University of Copenhagen also funded Cláudia, which allowed her to do some Paleoproteomics analyses while she was there.

There is still a long while to go before she finishes her project. But we can’t wait to know what she will discover about how children (and their teeth) lived and were treated in pre-historic society. I guess we can say these are the ACTUAL Wisdom teeth.

Author: Joana Belmiro

Reviewer: Cláudia Relvado

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