An Early Eighteenth-Century Denture from Rochester, Kent, England
Anderson, T., O'Connor, S., Ogden, A. R., Antiquity
The denture (Figure 1) was discovered in a pit lined with chalk blocks which was excavated in 1998 at Boley Hill, Rochester, Kent by Alan Ward for Canterbury Archaeological Trust. The pit was identified as a disused latrine, and in addition to the denture contained a minimum of sixty-four pottery vessels; sixteen clay pipe bowls, at least ten glass vessels and a number of bone and tortoiseshell combs, bone pins and iron knives. A secure early eighteenth century date (c. 1700-1710) is given by the objects. The clay pipes fall within the range of 1680-1710, the latest being manufactured in London and dated to the first half of the eighteenth century. A rare miniature white salt-glazed stoneware teapot manufactured in London could be closely dated to c. 1695-1710 (Cotter 1999; Home 2002). The first public sale of tea in Britain occurred in London in 1657 (Schapira et al. 1975: 163). However, tea remained an expensive luxury and would largely be a drink of the English nobility before the nineteenth century. Indeed, at the beginning of the eighteenth century a pound of tea cost 12 to 14 shillings, which was about a week's wage for a master craftsman (Cotter 1999). The finds from the latrine, especially the tea pot, appear to indicate a wealthy resident.
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Description of the denture fragment
The fragment of denture, some 54mm in length (arc measurement) is dark-cream in colour and appears to represent the central and right hand portion of a lower denture (Figure 1). When viewed from the labio-buccal aspect, four tooth-like shapes have been carved by cutting and shaping the labial surface of the denture (Figure 1a). The two central "teeth" are approximately square in outline with a crown height of 8mm and a mesio-distal width of 6mm. The more distal anterior teeth are taller (11mm) giving them a rectangular outline.
No attempt has been made to represent teeth on the lingual surface, which is flat and completely smooth, except for fine striations (Figure lb). The occlusal and the convex labial surfaces exhibit areas of high polishing. Occlusally, the mesial and distal aspects of the teeth have been carved to give a slight curvature (Figure 1c). The lower surface is flat and smooth with slight cracking following the curvature (Figure 1d). The edges have both been shaped to give a weakly-expressed convexity of the labio-buccal and the lingual aspects of the denture. The upper (occlusal) surface is smooth and narrow. The labio-lingual width of the "teeth" is 1 mm, which increases to 2mm at the most distal point of the denture. The more anterior end of the denture displays an irregular fracture, which is not modern (Figure 1e). The calculus deposits indicate that this had been a long-term fatigue crack, spreading from the base upwards.
The apparent lack of vascular structures suggests that the denture was carved from ivory rather than bone, and this was confirmed under a low power binocular microscope. The lamellar cracking indicates that it is dentine from a large tusk. The cracking (Figure 1d) is consistent with the denture having been cut from a transverse slab of a tusk with a circular or oval cone-within-cone structure. Elephant, hippopotamus and walrus all produce large tusks, from which "ivory" objects, both functional and decorative, have been fashioned. Elephant tusk has a circular cone-within-cone structure, as does hippopotamus incisor, whilst walrus tusk is markedly oval. Only elephant is likely to produce tusks with a diameter greater than 9cm, sufficient for this denture to be cut from its circumference. The regular organisation of the dentinal tubules and the way in which the dentine is laid down around them, produce characteristic dark and light hatching, often likened to machine turning, on the transverse section of the elephant tusk. However, probably because of the rough surface, this is not visible, but the convoluted cracks observed on the labio-buccal surface of the denture also confirm the identification of elephant ivory (O'Connor 1987) (Figure 1f). …