Medical researchers and archaeologists are studying the skull and teeth of a 15-year-old boy who died in 1607
The term “oral history” conjures images of man’s first attempts to learn from the past. Now an interdisciplinary team of researchers working in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering is giving those words new meaning.
School of Engineering postdoctoral fellow D. Joshua Cohen, M.D., and a team of medical researchers, as well as archaeologists from Jamestown Rediscovery at Historic Jamestowne, are studying the skull and teeth of a 15-year-old boy who died in Jamestown in 1607. They believe material recovered from the boy’s dental structures may yield clues about diet and other aspects of daily life in 17th-century Jamestown.
The Nanomaterials Characterization Core, a research core facility of the VCU Office of Research in the Institute for Engineering and Medicine, is assisting the effort. The NCC is also a partnership between the VCU School of Engineering and the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences. The samples were prepared in a clean environment that was provided by Wright Virginia Microelectronics Center at School of Engineering.
The project began when Martin D. Levin, D.M.D., who is an endodontist based in the Washington, D.C. area and also an adjunct professor at University of Pennsylvania, viewed the Smithsonian’s forensic archaeology exhibit “Written in Bone.” The popular show, which looked at what investigation of human skeletons could reveal about people and events of the past, included one skull that piqued Levin’s interest.
“I looked at the display of a young boy, showing his fractured teeth and associated abscess, and thought that further study might yield more information about his life,” Levin said.
The state-of-the-art instrumentation available in the NCC’s world-class, collaborative materials analysis facility made it the perfect place to uncover the next chapter of that story. So did something else.
“Dr. Levin came to us, and it was a bit of kismet that all of the parties came together, because [School of Engineering] Dean [Barbara] Boyan’s group has been researching in the field of bone for years,” Cohen said.