Table of Contents
Journal of Anthropology
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 859153, 7 pages
Research Article

The Discolouration of Human Teeth from Archaeological Contexts: Elemental Analysis of a Black Tooth from a Roman Cranium Recovered from the River Witham, Lincoln, UK

1Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford, Richmond Road, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD7 1DP, UK
2School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln, LN6 7TS, UK
3School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, James Parsons Building, Byrom Street, Liverpool, L3 3AF, UK

Received 23 June 2014; Accepted 13 August 2014; Published 14 September 2014

Academic Editor: Hugo Cardoso

Copyright © 2014 Emma L. Brown et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


A human cranium was recovered from the River Witham, Lincoln, UK, at Stamp End Lock during a police operation in 2002. Although extensive trauma was noted, the skull was not of forensic interest since radiocarbon dating revealed that the individual had lived during the Roman occupation of Lincoln, almost 2,000 years ago. The skull had unusual black “metallic” staining on the occlusal surfaces of the teeth. As this kind of staining is relatively uncommon, it was investigated to determine the possible cause. An individual tooth was subjected to two elemental analyses: inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES) and scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive X-ray analysis (SEM-EDX). A small sample of modern teeth was also analysed for comparison to determine “normal” ranges of certain elements. Analysis of the ancient tooth shows very high levels of manganese (275 µg/g) and iron (1540 µg/g) compared to modern teeth values (1.90 µg/g Mn and 40.81 µg/g Fe). These results were consistent with the black staining arising from iron and manganese infiltrating bone and dental tissue from the depositional environment, and not a consequence of diet, pathological process or cultural practices.