Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 11, Issue 11, pp 6305–6314 | Cite as

Comparisons between methods for analyzing dental calculus samples from El Mirador cave (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain)

  • Ana BucchiEmail author
  • Aitor Burguet-Coca
  • Isabel Expósito
  • Francisco Javier Aceituno Bocanegra
  • Marina Lozano
Original Paper


Microremains entrapped in dental calculus are being used as a source of information to address a number of archeological questions. However, current laboratory procedures may affect the recovery of microremains and this issue has not been thoroughly investigated. This study involved the analysis of dental calculus from five Chalcolithic individuals from El Mirador cave (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain) from a methodological perspective. Two sample processing protocols published in the archeological literature were used for this purpose, and results were compared to the El Mirador archaeobotanical record published elsewhere. Analyzed as a whole, the microremains found in the dental calculus samples are consistent with a population immersed in a farming economy, although they are not representative of the richness of the archaeobotanical record of the site. Furthermore, the two protocols delivered different results, in terms of the number of microremains identified, the time required for analysis, and associated contamination problems. This data indicates that the method selected may affect the results. We recommend further research using a larger sample set to fully understand how methodological factors affect the preservation and observation of microremains embedded in dental calculus. We also call for a discussion on the role of dental calculus in archeological research.


Dental calculus Sample processing El Mirador cave Microremains representation Chalcolithic 



We thank Francisco Luengo for the photography advice and Josep Maria Vergès for his help understanding the archeological site studied here. We are also grateful to the reviewers for their comments which we think have help us to improve this article.

Funding information

This work was supported by the research grants from the Dirección General de Investigación of Ministerio Ciencia y Tecnología (Spain), MICINN-FEDER PGC2018-093925-B-C32, with the financial support of the Generalitat de Catalunya, AGAUR agency, 2017 SGR 1040 and 2017 SGR 836  Research Group, and with the URV Project 2016PFR-URV-B2-17. A. B. would like to acknowledge support of the Education, Audiovisual, and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) for the Erasmus Mundus Grant and to the Becas Chile Program of the Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (CONICYT, Chile). A. Burguet-Coca’s research is funded by Fundación Atapuerca.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019
corrected publication 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES)TarragonaSpain
  2. 2.Àrea de PrehistòriaUniversitat Rovira i Virgili (URV)TarragonaSpain
  3. 3.Departamento de AntropologíaUniversidad de AntioquiaMedellínColombia

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