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Try this at home!

Faunal remains are perhaps the most intriguing finds of this week’s excavation processes. Perhaps because there are so many shapes and sizes of varying species, some well-intact and others are quite fragmented – some even beyond recognition. Though within the recently revealed layers our team has uncovered many teeth, of varying types but mainly primate or rodent.

Though we cannot assume the dying wish of these precious individuals was a thorough teeth cleaning, it is most certainly what has been occurring in the last few days. I spent many hours this morning learning some of the identifications and differentiation of primate teeth with the help of the MA students. Once the soil is removed from the root (anchors the tooth to the gum) and  the crown (the part we chew with) the teeth becomes more recognizable. So how is one tooth different from the other?

There are four major parts of a tooth. The outer layer, which we brush for hygienic purposes, is where the enamel exists, this portion can be refered to as the crown, below that is the dentine, which overlays the pulp. On the root of the tooth, similar to the enamel is the cementum. Many of the teeth that have been revealed have not been exposed to severe taphonomic processes, which in our case is great news! As such, the teeth uncovered are more identifiable because they are more intact, and have not decayed down to the pulp. Inasmuch, the deeper we dig, the more primate teeth we uncover.

Most of teeth we find are molars and premolars. You can try this on at home!

  1. Open your mouth!
  2. The first four teeth you see are called your incisors. We have found a lot of these lately. Notice the thin, scoop like shape of these teeth. This makes it easy for us to take a bite out of soft foods, like fruits or vegetables!
  3. The sharper teeth (one on each side) are called your canines. You should have two of these! And notably, they are quite large on animals that mainly rely on meat for survival, like dogs. These teeth are sharp and provide excellent assistance to the cut what the incisors scoop.
  4. Behind that is a set of four teeth, two on each side of your mouth. These are your premolars. These are for the chomp, or chew.
  5. The last tooth (two, one on each side of your mouth) are called the molars. These teeth are for the tough-stuff. Food likes nuts that are crunchy and need more pressure to chew.

The rainforest is home to many small mammals, in this case primates. In Trench A we have found many teeth near the charcoal features. It is my humble assumption that those who resided here, previous to our dig, ate small primates and cooked them in this area. Some of the recovered teeth were near large pottery features as well. In this case, the pottery would suffice for food storage or preparation. This is interesting because it suggests that life is sustainable within the cover of the rock shelter. Wherein, the rock shelter protects from rain and weather, allows for good lighting, and enough airflow for cooking with a fire. Inasmuch, rodents also provide for a decent amount of meat, and faunal remains and teeth have been found in similar areas of related contexts in Trench A.


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