The Histological Paradox: Methodology and Efficacy of Dental Sectioning

Christopher Aris


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Within the last two decades, the fields of dental anthropology and bioarchaeology have seen a drastic increase in the number of studies investigating the internal structures of human enamel in archaeological populations. Due to its relatively low cost and preparation time, combined with a high degree of accuracy, destructive histological analysis has become a common methodology in enamel research. However, despite its accuracy and presence within academic literature, institutions often reject applications to perform histological analysis as standard procedure. Most frequently this is justified because destructive analysis negatively impacts future research. As a result, many studies are forced to utilise published data or attempt to access the small number of dental histological slides already in existence. This paper details the processes and procedures followed during histological sampling, with the aim to provide an easily accessible reference for curators allowing them to make more informed decisions regarding requests to conduct histology on samples within their care. Moreover, this paper highlights the preservative methods available to researchers which, when employed, both limit the negative impact to future research and expand the type of material which institutions can provide access to. Access to these new materials provides curators with alternative responses to applications rather than rejecting proposals entirely. Methods include high quality resin casting, which allows for future metric and micro-wear analysis, and digital stitching methods for producing dental cross section databases which institutions can offer access to instead of further destructive sampling.


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