Penny Higgins

Penny Higgins

Rochester, NY



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Published on Sep 10, 2020

Sampling Tooth Enamel

In the previous post, I explained how teeth grow. Now I'm going to get into the details of how we collect tooth enamel samples for isotopic analysis. What we need is powdered enamel. The best way t...

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Published on Aug 26, 2020

How teeth grow

This is a post that I wrote on my blog in 2013 about how teeth grow. It's totally relevant to this project, because understanding how teeth form helps us interpret the results of the chemical analy...

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Published on Aug 26, 2020

I have this jaw I'd like to give you...

Part of this project is gathering the funds needed to perform the necessary chemical analyses. The other part is gathering jaw bones from far and wide (only legally, of course), so that we have a l...

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Published on Aug 25, 2020

Let's talk teeth - is this the third molar?

How do we know what teeth we have when we find a jaw or an isolated tooth?Let's start with a simple, yet common case: The lower jaw of a deer or sheep. For those of you that spend much time hiking,...

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Published on Aug 20, 2020

What chemistry?

As we describe this project, we refer to the "chemistry" of tooth enamel. Chemistry can mean a lot of things, so what does it mean in this context?Let's start with tooth enamel. Tooth enamel is com...

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Published on Aug 18, 2020

Some early data and how this works

This project was born from the practical need to be able to maximize our ability to learn about past environments using the geochemistry of fossil teeth. There have been a few studies, some publish...

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That's a really good question. While carbon and oxygen are the most commonly used environmental records, strontium is also used and is incorporated into teeth with a similar timing as carbon and oxygen. Strontium can tell us about the migration and ranging patterns of animals. What we learn from carbon and oxygen will most likely apply to strontium studies as well, but we can't directly investigate that because it requires a different kind of sample preparation and analysis. Other chemical systems may behave differently, but aren't as broadly used... yet. And if we step away from tooth enamel and study other parts of the teeth (like dentine) or bones, then all bets are off. Enamel is great because it's essentially solid mineral and once formed it doesn't get altered by biological or inorganic processes, but bones and dentine are constantly remodeled in life and then get toasted by the fossilization process, so what we're doing here has limited applicability.
Aug 18, 2020
Are there viable alternatives to the third molar for reconstructing ancient environments using analysis of mammal teeth?
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Thank you for your support of the project! I'm also glad you liked the video, because that's the first time I've attempted anything like it. Rohat did a great job of explaining what our goal is, which can be summarized as "we hope we get the same results from incisors as we do from m3s." I did just post a lab note that includes some real data, and goes over some of the challenges and caveats we face. I think I'd modify our goal to say that "we hope that m3s and incisors either are the same, or vary from m3s in a systematic and predictable way so we can use them instead of m3s."
Aug 18, 2020
Are there viable alternatives to the third molar for reconstructing ancient environments using analysis of mammal teeth?
View comment