Teeth. Feel your teeth with your tongue. Bite together. Use your fingers to feel them through the skin of your face. Do you like your teeth? Do you like the way they shape your face? Or have you always hated them? Do you feel guilty about the state of them? Would you trust them with a toffee?
Much more than buried bones, our teeth are an obvious part of our everyday appearance and shape how we see ourselves and others, and they’re tied up with all sorts of emotions we can easily imagine and share.
The teeth in the picture belong to a young woman. They were found with her skeleton at Fin Cop, a hillfort overlooking Monsal Dale, and are now at Buxton Museum. Although she lived around 2,300 years ago, her teeth are instantly recognisable and familiar objects to us, and they can tell us something about her.
Only one of her teeth is missing, out of a possible 32. She had some dental disease, with a cavity in one tooth and calculus on all the teeth. This points to poor dental hygiene and a diet which included honey or sugary fruit. She shows signs of having gone through a time of malnutrition or illness in childhood. There were cattle, pig and sheep or maybe goats to eat but we don’t know if she had the status to get this meat. She might have eaten hazelnuts and sloes from nearby trees.
Wear patterns show she regularly performed some task which involved biting or holding something in her teeth.
She was likely to be in her early 20s, perhaps about 5’ 4” tall, and may have been pregnant with her first child.
This information has been built up by researchers interpreting all the evidence gathered during excavation. The story of the death of the people found at Fin Cop could easily become their whole story, but simple objects like these teeth offer a window to our shared experiences of life.
These remains were found in excavations in 2009 and 2010 by Longstone Local History Group with supervision by Archaeological Research Services Ltd. A further excavation was carried out in 2012.
Waddington C, Beswick P, Brightman J, Mapplethorpe K, Marshall P, Meadows J, Thornton A. 2011. Fin Cop Archive Excavation Report for 2010, ARS Ltd Report No. 2011/27, Archaeological Research Services.
Waddington C, Beswick P, Brightman J, Bronk Ramsey C, Burn A, Cook G, Elliot L, Gidney L, Haddow S, Hammon A, Harrison K, Mapplethorpe K, Marshall P, Meadows J, Smalley R, Thornton A & Longstone Local History Group. 2012. Excavations at Fin Cop, Derbyshire: An Iron Age Hillfort in Conflict? Archaeological Journal 169(1): 159–236.