Finding Patterns

Introduction

Careful measurement is the cornerstone of science, and here’s why: The measurements that scientists make allow them to identify patterns and variations in those patterns, both of which can tell useful stories.


One such story is your own life story, which is etched indelibly in your teeth—if you know where to look.


Like the growth rings of a tree, microscopic lines in the roots of your teeth mark daily and weekly cycles, as well as major stresses. Birth, disease, famine, death—each leaves a trace in the teeth, and allows researchers to put together a life history for individuals who may have been dead for tens of thousands of years.


What was life like for our ancestors? What were they eating, and were they finding enough food? Did they suffer from trauma or illness? How old were they when they died? The information gleaned from fossil teeth can give researchers valuable clues for piecing together the story of an individual and, by extension, an entire species.