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Dental Tartar Yields Food Data from Japan’s Edo Period

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Japan Dental CalculusTOKYO, JAPAN—The Asahi Shimbun reports that Rikai Sawafuji of the University of the Ryukyus, Shintaroh Ueda of the University of Tokyo, and their colleagues analyzed samples of tartar from the teeth of 13 people who were buried in what is now eastern Tokyo in the latter half of the Edo Period, from A.D. 1603 to 1867. DNA from rice was identified in the tartar of eight of the individuals. The DNA of other foods, including daikon radish, the minty herb “shiso” perilla, green onion, Japanese chestnut, carrot, and pumpkin was also identified. The researchers noted that these foods are described in records of the period. DNA from tobacco plants, which may have been smoked, was also found in the tartar. Resin from tropical lowland rainforest trees detected in the tartar is thought to have been used as a tooth powder. “The technique will make it possible to survey what each individual ate,” Sawafuji said of the project. Such analysis could allow researchers to determine which foods were used as staples, and even which were an individual’s favorite foods, he added. To read about the discovery of Japan's oldest known sake brewery, go to "At Press Time."

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