Unlocking evidence of early diet from tooth enamel

  • Humphrey L
  • Dean M
  • Jeffries T
 et al. 
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Recent developments in microspatial analysis of enamel chemistry provide the resolution needed to reconstruct detailed chronological records of an individual's early life history. Evidence of nutritional history, residential mobility, and exposure to heavy metals can potentially be retrieved from archaeological and even fossil teeth. Understanding the pattern and timing of incorporation of each trace element or stable isotope into enamel is crucial to the interpretation of the primary data. Here, we use laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and ArcGIS software to map variation in calcium-normalized strontium intensities across thin sections of enamel from exfoliated deciduous teeth. Differences in calcium-normalized strontium intensities across each tooth reflect variation in tooth mineralization, implying that sampling location must be taken into account in interpreting results. Chronologically consistent shifts in calcium-normalized strontium intensities in teeth from children with known nursing histories reflect the onset and duration of breastfeeding and the introduction of nonmaternal sources of food. This tool is likely to be valuable for studying weaning and nursing behavior in the past. The distribution of normalized strontium intensities presented here is consistent with a model for the differential incorporation of strontium and calcium into enamel during the secretory and maturational phases of formation.

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  • L. T. Humphrey

  • M. C. Dean

  • T. E. Jeffries

  • M. Penn

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