Microfossil and Fourier Transform InfraRed analyses of Lapita and post-Lapita human dental calculus from Vanuatu, Southwest Pacific

Mark Horrocks, Michael K Nieuwoudt, R.L. Kinaston, Hallie R Buckley, Stuart Bedford

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Here we report on microfossil analysis of human dental calculus from Lapita (3000-2600 yr BP) and post-Lapita (2300-2000 yr BP) burials from Vao and Uripiv, Vanuatu. Phytoliths of introduced Musa and indigenous Heliconia in the calculus suggest the use of these taxa as food wrappings. Phytoliths and most other material in the calculus, namely sponge spicules, calcium oxalate crystals, xylem and charcoal, are unequivocal identifications. Another type of material, comprising degraded objects with a general morphology suggesting starch grains, is uncertain, however, as the unequivocal starch indicator, the Maltese cross, was not observed. We used a new method for calculus analysis, Fourier Transform InfraRed spectroscopy (FTIR), comparing the suspected starch with modern reference starch of prehistoric Pacific crops. Although the ancient FTIR analysis was limited to a small number of suspected starch grains, the results provide another line of evidence for starch. The calculus data are consistent with previous microfossil studies of Lapita deposits at the sites, and demonstrate the efficacy of this technique in contributing to the definition of the history of plant use and diet of early Pacific Island populations.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)17-33
    JournalJournal of the Royal Society of New Zealand
    Volume44
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2014

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