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The archeological bones, part 2: the teeth


Two weeks ago I started writing about a box of archeological bones I had been given as a present by someone who was moving to another country. This week I am going to write about the teeth in the box.   There were more teeth in the box than any other type of bone, perhaps because teeth last longer than bone. Some were still in fragments of jaw, and others were just loose by themselves.

You can tell a lot from teeth. They can tell you what type of things it ate, how big it was, how old it was, and sometimes what animal it was. I am really good with red and roe deer teeth because I have absolutely tons of them, but this was more of a puzzle because there were lots of different teeth some of which I had never seen before. It was also harder because when teeth are in a jaw it's easier to tell whether they are molars or pre-molars which are the two types of cheek teeth in animals.

Here are some that were just in the first bag:

To work these out I started by comparing these teeth with a young red deer skull and a middle aged deer skull. Even if it matched it didn't mean it was a deer since deer, sheep and cows have similar teeth.

If the teeth above are numbered 1-6 from left to right then I worked out:

The first is a third molar (the back tooth) on the lower jaw on the left hand side. Scientists call this "M3". This was an easy one to start with. It also means it came from an adult animal, and something bigger than a red deer. Maybe a cow ?

#2 above looks like the tooth next to that one, which is M2, again from the left hand side. It could be from a similar sized animal as number 1, so maybe a cow again.

#3 above (it's the top tooth) is difficult because it is split in half top to bottom. It looks similar to number 2 (at the bottom) but is bigger and smoother.

#4 is the same as #2 and #3 so I guess a lower jaw M2 from a cow.

#5 above is easy, because it has three cusps (spikes) and three roots which makes it a milk tooth pm3 (lower case for milk teeth). Milk teeth are baby teeth that get replaced with adult teeth later. I guess cow again.

The sixth one was a PM2 tooth on the right lower jaw, bigger than my red deer, so maybe a cow again.

They might all be from cows but maybe it was from long enough ago it could have been from  ancient red deer. Ancient red deer were bigger than red deer today because they had better places to feed from, and became bigger from having better food. When farming started, the deer were forced up to moors to eat less healthy plants and food.

There were two jaw fragments:

They didn't match up so weren't from the same jaw. You can also tell because the bottom bit has an adult M3 tooth but the top jaw has a milk tooth pm3. You wouldn't get both teeth in the same jaw. These jaws are from a grass eater like a deer, cow or sheep.

This one is a tricky one:

but I remembered it was the same as my pig skull.

This is another jaw (below) where the first tooth still in  is the three-cusped pm3 with M1 and M2 in place and M3 still coming through at the back. I think sheep from the shape of it.

From above you can see the milk pm2 tooth had been pushed out by the adult PM2 tooth below it, and see how wide the pm3 tooth is.

Below is another jaw that had broken and you could see back molar M3 was there but hadn't started to come through yet, meaning this animal (sheep ?) wasn't yet an adult.

This next tooth was very confusing at first...

...and this one looked the same type of animal....

until I remembered my pig skull again. I think these were pig teeth.

This next one was a big puzzle, though. It was the next to last tooth in a lower jaw of an animal that wasn't big, but maybe fox sized.

Was it a fox ? It didn't really seem to be.

Then I thought about my badger skull....

...and it matched ! It was the back molar on the right hand side of the lower jaw of a badger.

Finally, this part of a jaw was my favourite one. I recognised the carnassial tooth which are a pair of teeth on the top and bottom jaws that meat-eaters have which cut through meat. It looks like an Olympic podium with the middle bit the highest, the left bit a bit lower down, and the bit on the right lower still. I compared to my fox skull and it was almost the same but bigger.

My guess is dog...or maybe wolf ! (Foxes, dogs and wolves are all canids, from the canine family so their teeth and bones look the same) How cool would it be to have bones from a wolf !

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Gill Edwards said...

Really enjoying your blog Jake, you cover the detail in your post very thoroughly and i always learn a lot.

Jack N said...


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading your posts! I started a bone collection during the summer, and saw your blog while doing some research. I learned much more on your blog then all the research I had done before!


Psydrache said...

Wow, it's amazing how you put each tooth to the right animal. Especially the badger part was impressive to me. And it would be cool, if the canide jaw bone would be from a wolf :)

Jake said...

Thanks everyone !

@Psydrache - it's only a good guess really, I might be wrong.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog! I've been collecting bones about 16 years. It's always so exciting to find something new when you're out in the forest. It's like an adrenaline rush. Keep up the good work!

Jake said...

Thanks !

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