Internet Explorer and Edge browser users:
To download Word, Excel or PowerPoint files please right-click on the file you wish to download, and select 'Save target as...'

Mayan tooth

 

Applies to:All
Print page
Last reviewed:
26/06/2013
PDF this page
Last updated:
26/06/2013
Add to BDA bookmarks

 

Mayan tooth with gem stone insert, c. AD 800 

The Mayan civilization occupied a vast area covering south-east Mexico and the Central American countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. Mayan culture began to develop in the pre-Classic period, around 1000 BC and was at its height between AD 300 and 900. Their society consisted of many independent states, each with a rural farming community and large urban sites built around ceremonial centres. They built elaborate and highly-decorated ceremonial architecture, including temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories.

The Mayans had highly developed dental skills, not acquired for oral health or personal adornment but probably for ritual or religious purposes. They were able to place carved stone inlays into prepared cavities in live front teeth, in people’s mouths. A round, copper tube similar in shape to a drinking straw, was spun between the hands or in a rope drill, with a  slurry of powered quartz in water as the abrasive, cutting a round hole through the enamel. The stone inlay was ground to fit exactly into the cavity. These inlays were made of a variety of minerals of beautiful colours, including jadeite, iron pyrites, hematite, turquoise, quartz, serpentine and cinnabar. In Mexico City Museum complete skulls can be seen with all the front teeth with colourful inlays.