A grave matter - Dental findings of people buried in the 19th and 20th centuries
The exhumed remains of 181 people, buried during the period 1848-1984 were examined. Because of the carelessness of exhumations, only 125 yielded sufficient information to compare the condition of skulls and jaws with the period in the grave, while 63 yielded information about the teeth. No correlation could be shown between the condition of the skulls and jaws and the period interred, but it was found that the better preserved remains belonged to younger people. Dental findings included the presence of healthy and decayed teeth, gold foil restorations, gold and porcelain inlays, amalgam and silicate fillings, and vulcanite and acrylic dentures. Amalgam restorations were present in people bruied from 1875 (114 years ago) and vulcanite dentures from 1882 (107 years ago). The characteristics of the earliest amalgam restorations showed that they could have been placed before 1850. Findings of this study indicate that: (a) one cannot on the appearance of exhumed remains estimate the burial period, (b) dental features were well preserved and can be used for dental identification if antemortem data are available, (c) advanced dentistry could have been practised in South Africa during the last century, and (d) recovery of human skeletal remains from old cemeteries should be undertaken with care to preserve as much information as possible. A plea is made for closer co-operation between developers of old graveyard sites and scientists in order to preserve as much information as possible.