The cremation process destroys a lot of information that can usually be obtained from the human skeleton. Especially the diseases are difficult to observe. This caused a scarcity in our knowledge of the disease burden in populations that practiced cremation as their main funeral ritual. Dr Barbara Veselka and Pr Christophe Snoeck, from the Brussels Bioarchaeology Lab and the MARI and AMGC research groups have for the first time detected vitamin D deficiency in cremated human remains.
Dr Barbara Veselka: âThe results of our study represent a major advance in the fields of biological anthropology, archeology and paleopathology by opening up a variety of new possibilities for the study of health and activities related to sun exposure of many past populations. who practiced cremation as a funeral ritual. “The study was published in the academic journal Scientific reports.
Within the framework of the Brussels Bioarchaeology Lab (www.bb-lab.be) and the MARI and AMGC research groups, Dr Barbara Veselka and Pr Christophe Snoeck carried out burning experiments using an archaeological sample of 17 matched teeth.
Veselka: âWe conducted tooth burn experiments to assess the visibility of interglobular dentin, a dentin mineralization defect attributed to vitamin D deficiency, in burnt teeth at temperatures ranging from 600 to 900 Â° vs. Our study is the first to show that this defect is still visible at temperatures up to 900 Â° C. This allows, for the first time, the identification of a vitamin D deficiency in cremated human remains. “
Sixteen pairs of molars were from the cemetery in Koekelberg, Belgium, and one pair of canines were from the cemetery in Broerekerk Zwolle, the Netherlands. From each pair, one unburned tooth was assessed under a thin section microscope for interglobular dentin. The other tooth was burned at temperatures of 600, 800 or 900 Â° C. The duration of the combustion process was 2, 4 or 8 hours. Each of the burnt teeth was examined for interglobular dentin and compared to their unburned counterparts.
Study of sun exposure in the past
The fact that interglobular dentin is still visible in burnt teeth at temperatures of 900 Â° C is remarkable and makes it possible to assess vitamin D deficiency in past populations. In addition, the age at which the disease occurred, the severity of the deficit and whether the disease was recurrent can also be determined. Since most cases of vitamin D deficiency can be traced to limited exposure to sufficient amounts of sunlight, information on the age of onset helps reconstruct daily activities related to sun exposure.
Veselka: “This innovative study stimulates further bioarchaeological research, which will increase our understanding of the influence of environmental and socio-cultural variables on individuals.”
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