Dental calculus is not equivalent to bone collagen for isotope analysis: A comparison between carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis of bulk dental calculus, bone and dentine collagen from same individuals from the Medieval site of El Raval (Alicante, Spain)

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Abstract

Palaeodietary reconstruction using the carbon and nitrogen isotope values of bone and dentine collagen is a well-established method and the biochemical processes involved are well known. Researchers have recently explored using bulk samples of dental calculus as a substitute for bone and dentine collagen in dietary analyses, because calculus can be sampled without causing damage to the teeth, and may be useful in situations where more destructive analyses are not possible, or where collagen is poorly preserved. Several questions remain about the use of bulk calculus as a source of carbon and nitrogen isotope data, however. It is not yet clear how much of an individual's life span dental calculus represents, what portions of the diet it records, and how diagenesis effects the carbon and nitrogen isotope values of this material. Most importantly, there have been no comparative studies of collagen and calculus isotope values, which are necessary to establish the value of bulk calculus as a source of accurate isotope values. Here we report the comparison of carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses of bulk calculus to those from bone and dentine collagen. These analyses have been performed on individuals from the El Raval Mudéjar Medieval Cemetery (Eastern Iberia, 15th century A.D.). Although calculus isotope values may be broadly similar to expected values at the population level, we report here no correlation between collagen and bulk dental calculus values at the individual level. As a result, we recommend that carbon and nitrogen analysis on bulk dental calculus should only be used as a last resource archaeological dietary marker, if at all. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

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Salazar-García, D. C., Richards, M. P., Nehlich, O., & Henry, A. G. (2014). Dental calculus is not equivalent to bone collagen for isotope analysis: A comparison between carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analysis of bulk dental calculus, bone and dentine collagen from same individuals from the Medieval site of El Raval (Alicante, Spain). Journal of Archaeological Science, 47(1), 70–77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2014.03.026

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