Identifying Human Teeth: The Premolars

Folklore holds that one way to stop a vampire in its tracks is to spill a sack of grain across its path. Purportedly, the creature’s visceral obsession with counting will take hold, forcing it to crouch down and compulsively count every single grain before continuing on its way.

Admittedly, this strategy probably does not work for all vampires.

Admittedly, this strategy probably does not work for all vampires.

That is how I currently feel when faced with loose human teeth. In the past month I have screened over 100 bags of fragmentary human crania, postcrania, maxillae, and mandibles, carefully combing through every sliver of bone to find any dentition that I can. I have become preternaturally good at spilling heaps of bone out onto sorting trays and rapidly plucking handfuls of dentition out of the resulting osteological cornucopia, using a process that closely resembles that of a racoon harvesting crayfish from a stream. As a result, I am starting to hit a particularly severe level of final-push data collection insanity. My hands start cramping into claws every afternoon at about 4 pm due to too much precision grip with the dental pick, I’m constantly muttering crown height measurements and attrition scores to myself as if reciting some sort of macabre incantation, and I start cursing, automatically and inventively, whenever I stumble upon yet another bag labelled “MANDÍBULAS”. It’s a lot like this time last summer, in fact.

All day every dayHowever, the one great benefit of my dentition boot camp is that it has allowed me to come up with many tips and tricks for identifying specific types of teeth. My current favorites are the premolars, which I find to be some of the easiest dentition to identify and side. In attempt to preserve some of the arcane dental knowledge my brain is currently brimming with, I’ve outlined a guide for identifying the premolars below, akin to my previous post on identifying human dentition more generally.

My observations range from advice about root form and directionality to tips concerning cusp size, wear, and orientation. As a caveat, human dentition is highly variable, so these tips likely won’t work for every single premolar you come across. Many of these observations are simply things I’ve noticed after working with hundreds of premolars over the last month or two, features that tend to recur repeatedly when you have access to a broad sample of teeth.

If you’re so inclined, I’ve also posted a downloadable pdf of my premolar guide at the end of the post, for easy access or printability. Happy tooth identification!

Occlusal View
Root tips

Upper PremolarsLower Premolars

Downloadable PDF: Bone_Broke_Guide_to_Identifying_Human_Premolars

Image Credits: Unhappy Spike was found at Persephone Magazine, here. All other photos were taken at the Museo de Jaén in Summer 2014.

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6 Responses to Identifying Human Teeth: The Premolars

  1. A fantastic and detailed post! The PDF guides are so handy as well. Cheers!

    Like

  2. Pingback: Around the Archaeology Blog-o-sphere Digest #2 | Doug's Archaeology

  3. Anthelia says:

    Some how, your notes have found their way into my notes.
    The PDF is amazing! do you have any for identifying other teeth, incisors, canines, or molars?

    Like

  4. Pingback: Bone Broke Year in Review | Bone Broke

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