Tooth histology using light microscopy is a powerful tool that can demonstrate how hard tissues like enamel, dentin and cementum record information about an animal's life as it grows.

An important part of my research involves integrating incremental features of tooth growth, with methods developed by Tanya Smith, alongside other diverse kinds of information. Together these can be passed into model simulations that estimate the timing of diet, behavior, and environment of animals from the archaeological and ancient past.

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Transmitted light microscope image showing long (Retzius) and short (daily) growth increments in a human third molar.

Tooth enamel is a complex structure that, like all biological hard tissues, forms incrementally.

In collaboration with others, my research seeks to integrate traditional histological techniques that record growth timing with modern imaging tools including scanning electron microscopy and synchrotron imaging. Combined, these techniques allow researchers to extract as much chemical, physiological, and environmental information as possible from modern and ancient teeth.

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A scanning electron microscopy image showing electron density mapping of maturing enamel matrix. Photographed in collaboration with James Weaver.

Synchrotron X-ray imaging permits the quantitative characterization of enamel mineral density.

Working with Paul Tafforeau and Tanya Smith, my research has used density characterization and oxygen isotope measurements to reveal the timing and geometry of multiple mineralization waves, and the complex process of biomineralization in mammalian molars.

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Synchrotron X-ray montage of a newborn sheep first molar, assembled by Paul Tafforeau.