Curios Revealed: November 5, 2013 Reveal

Each Thursday we reveal the answer to Tuesday’s mystery object.

On Tuesday we posted the following object.  As it so happens, we chose this object for a very peculiar November 7th anniversary…

Nov 5 photo

Want to know if you guessed correctly?  Don’t know what the connection is to November 7th?  Read on to find out the answer!

November 5 photoThis bone toothbrush handle was found as part of the Riverside excavations back in the spring of this year.  Although the bristles did not preserve, they were likely made of animal bristles, since nylon bristles were not introduced until 1938, well after the date of the Riverside site!  Artifacts like these can give archaeologists better insights into the hygienic practices of New Yorkers in this area during the 19th century, a time period often scorned for its poor hygiene by us today.

Toothbrushes have a long archaeological history.  Early forms have been found in Mesopotamian and Egyptian contexts, although its the Chinese who get the credit for the first brush with bristles attached.  Although the first mass-produced toothbrushes were made in England, today is a special anniversary in the American history of oral hygiene.  On this date, in 1857, H.N. Wadsworth applied for the first American toothbrush patent.  You can view the original patent here and compare it to our toothbrush, which was likely deposited only 13 years later.  While its unclear if our toothbrush is the same style Wadsworth patented, its clear from looking at modern day toothbrush patents that the design and research have come a long way!

Many people associate toothbrushes with oral hygiene, but  archaeologists often use modern brushes during artifact washing because the nylon bristles do not scratch the artifacts while they are being cleaned.  In fact, while cleaning the Riverside artifacts, we had the surreal experience of using a toothbrush to clean a pair of dentures found at the site!


It should be noted that archaeologists consider teeth useful artifacts as well.  In fact, teeth can yield a lot of varied information on past diets, migrations, demography, etc. We’d like to say hello to a group of homeschool kids and their tutor who contacted  us about an online research project on archaeology.  They also sent along this link  We thought it had some good resource links for those interested in the study of teeth.  It’s great to see so many people taking an interest in archaeology!  Keep up the good work!


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