Excavation crews working down under have uncovered a trove of century-old human teeth. While it might sound like the scene of some horrific, tortuous event at the turn of the 20th century, archaeologists onsite are offering up a much more ordinary explanation.
“The reason why is because there was a dentist here, a Dr. Forster, who set up his business here in 1898 on the site just next door,” said Meg Goulding, CEO and Principal Heritage Adviser with Ochre Imprints, in a video posted to Twitter.
Halfway through a six-month archaeological survey preempting the building of a new subway stop, more than 1,000 extracted teeth turned up. Many of the teeth come from adults and show serious signs of decay, indicating the people they were extracted from likely would have been in a lot of pain prior to removal.
Metro Tunnel first shared the discovery in an August 16 tweet complete with a photo of dentures and an advertisement from a 1924 newspaper clipping digitally archived online by the National Library of Australia. The article advertised Dr J.J. Forster’s dental practice with the tagline “Perfect Teeth Make a Perfect Smile.”
At the time, there were several dentists on the block, but Forster was the most well-known. His ad promised that he could remove “teeth truthfully without pain”. However, extracting teeth at this time would have been quite the opposite, according to Mark Evans, associate professor at the Melbourne Dental School, who spoke with Melbourne publication The Age. Evans says early 20th-century dental work involved removing teeth with levers and forceps only after administering unreliable and short-term anesthesia drugs like cocaine, Novocaine, and nitrous oxide. Because there were no drugs available at the time to fight off infection, Evans says dentistry was used as a “last resort rather than a preventative measure.”
Over the last 150 years, the site has been home to a number of businesses, including one of Australia’s earliest girls’ school (1838), a Freemason’s hotel (1856), and a hardware store (1850). A large number of old coins have also been found after likely having fallen through the floorboards of these businesses.
“Some of those are very significant coins, worth about 3,000 dollars in today’s terms,” said Goulding. Other items include pipes with opium traces, earrings, a child’s slingshot, and a bone-handled fork, reports the publication. In total, some half-a-million artifacts have been uncovered, all of which will be preserved to help paint a bigger picture of what life was like at the time.
[H/T: The Age]