An archaeologist from the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra is looking to redefine what we know about elderly people throughout history, and dispel the myth that most people didn’t live much past 40 prior to modern medicine by examining teeth.
Christine Cave has developed a new method for determining the age of death for skeletal remains based on how worn the teeth are.
She developed her method by analysing the wear on skeletal teeth and comparing it with living populations of comparable cultures. She examined the skeletal remains of three Anglo-Saxon English cemeteries for people buried between AD475 and AD625.
She says: “For people living traditional lives without modern medicine or markets the most common age of death is about 70, and that is remarkably similar across all different cultures”.
Ms Cave says the myth has been built up due to deficiencies in the way older people are categorised in archaeological studies: “Older people have been very much ignored in archaeological studies and part of the reason for that has been the inability to identify them.
“When you are determining the age of children you use developmental points like tooth eruption or the fusion of bones that all happen at a certain age. Once people are fully grown it becomes increasingly difficult to determine their age from skeletal remains, which is why most studies just have a highest age category of 40 plus or 45 plus.”
Ms Cave says the new method will give archaeologists a more accurate view of past.