Human skeletal remains from archeological sites are often studied to determine historical information such as sex, age, and health, among other facts.  The information from individuals can be used to better understand a population and the culture of a past people.  With the aid of a Preservation Technology and Training Grant, Dr. Shannon Hodge at Middle Tennessee State University has introduced the use of commercially-available dental computer-aided design and manufacturing technologies (CAD-CAM) to create digitally and physically accurate models of human dental surfaces.  The technique is able to capture surface details of teeth to a resolution of 4 to 12 microns. (The average width of a human hair is about 100 microns).

Since 1990, federal and state regulations were implemented that govern the excavation, proper handling and reburial of Native American and other human skeletal remains.  In many cases, human remains are avoided if at all possible, but if they must be removed to prevent their destruction, they are typically reburied within a specified time interval ranging from the same day to as much as one calendar year of their removal from their original burial location.  There is a need to balance the call for repatriation and the desire to preserve information that can be derived from studies of the remains.  Research-quality dental replicas have the potential to alleviate some of these concerns.

Hodge’s research looked at existing CAD-CAM technology create digitally and physically accurate models of human dental micro-topography precise enough to serve as a research grade replica for use after the original specimen is no longer available for analysis.  This technique was able to capture surface details with a degree of precision far finer than is necessary to capture the details of most pathological and cultural alterations to human teeth.  There were limitations to the method however, including the inability to observe internal features of the tooth.

This research was made possible through Grant MT-2210-09-NC-09 from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT).

National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
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Email: ncptt[at]nps.gov
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