Learning About Christopher Columbus via Dental Studies

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In 1494, more than 1,000 of Christopher Columbus’ crew members established a settlement on the coast of the present-day Dominican Republic. La Isabela was abandoned after just a few years, and much of the ruins were mistakenly bulldozed into the sea. However, skeletons of the crew members remained, and thanks to new technology, their teeth have been carefully analyzed. They’ve revealed some surprising information about the crew members’ lives.

Teeth are chemically examined by analyzing their isotopes. Carbon isotope ratios can indicate a person’s typical diet. European skeletons would have greater concentrations of carbon 12, because they ate grains like barley and wheat. Oxygen isotopes can be used to determine the climate of where the person lived. And strontium isotopes indicate whether the person lived in an area with very old bedrock, like West Africa. Based on their isotope analysis, researchers have concluded that some of Columbus’ crew members were likely free black Africans. They would have arrived in La Isabela well before the slave trade was established. Less surprising findings include that the crew members suffered from scurvy, malnutrition, and physical stress.

Dental technology is constantly improving, and here at University Associates in Dentistry, we embrace new innovations that help our patients have a healthier smile. Call (312) 704-5511 for an appointment with a dentist in Chicago .

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