For Whom the Coin Tolls: Green Stained Teeth and Jaws In Medieval and Post-Medieval Spanish Burials

Kimberly A. Hopkinson, Sarah M. Yeats, G. Richard Scott
2018 Dental Anthropology Journal  
While observing dental characteristicsin Spanish and Basque skeletons from the Cathedralof Santa Maria in Vitoria, Spain, an unusual patternof staining was evident in 18 of 206 individuals. Thestain, which permeated bone, dentine, calculus, and/orenamel, varied in color from bright green to turquoise.Males and females, all age categories, and medieval andpost-medieval skeletons were equally affected. The greenstain was the result of an ancient practice going back toGreek times that involved
more » ... s that involved placing a silver or gold coin(obol) in the mouth of the deceased prior to burial forthe purpose of paying the boatman (Charon) for passageacross the river of woe (Acheron). In Spain, bronze coinssubstituted for silver and gold. The copper componentof the bronze reacted with the acidic environment causedby decomposition creating basic copper carbonate. Thecopper carbonate then seeped into the porous spacesof the bones and teeth or replaced the mineral portionof the bone. The duration of this practice providesevidence that a seemingly 'pagan' ritual was preservedlong after Christianity spread throughout Spain.
doi:10.26575/daj.v21i1.97 fatcat:rhgk7pli2jbbvpwwcukrfz76ie