Reason #382 to work in a museum: Surprise Teeth

Ever wonder about the cool stuff a museum has thats not on display? Well, heres a glimpse into my everyday discoveries. Since this is my first blog post Ill introduce myself. My name is Juli Six and I am a Collections Assistant in the Archaeology Department as well as in the Archives Library here at the Ohio Historical Society. As an assistant to the curators, my job includes everything from researching Death Certificates, to cataloging historic nails, to dusting the Conway Mastodon [and that was just this week]. One of my main interests is mammalian osteology, especially faunal remains from archaeological sites in Ohio. While cataloging artifacts from a recent acquisition I came across two interesting objects. At first glance I thought oh cool, bone beads! But when I turned them over and inspected them more closely I saw the giveaway: tiny rings. Mammal bone typically doesnt exhibit growth rings in such a way. So what are they?

Fig. 1. Side view of pharyngeal teeth of a drum fish

They are pharyngeal, or throat, teeth of the Freshwater Drum (see figures 1 & 2). Thats right; fish can have teeth in their throats. Even goldfish have pharyngeal teeth. Drum fish (Aplodinotus grunniens) are found in rivers and lakes of North America. These particular specimens came from an archaeological site near the Ohio River in Lawrence County. Drum fish have acquired many nicknames over time such as grunter, buffalofish, and bubbler.  These names refer to the noises that males of the species make. Special muscles vibrate against their air bladders to create a drumming or grunting sound. Ichthyologists believe this behavior plays a role in spawning.

Fig. 2. Bottom view of pharyngeal teeth of a drum fish.

Like human teeth, fish teeth can be different shapes and lengths based on the fishs diet. These are molariform (molar-shaped); they have round edges and flatter tops. Together they form a hard cobblestone-like surface on either side of the throat for crushing and grinding. Drum fish use their throat teeth to crack open mollusks and other hard shelled creatures living at the bottom of rivers. Figure 3 is a photo of the bone that holds pharyngeal teeth. This is found in a much smaller drum that eats softer prey, but the structure is the same.

Fig. 3. Bone that holds pharyngeal teeth of the drum fish.

For a picture of a drum fish and more fun info visit the Ohio Department of Natural Resources webpage. And keep a lookout for my next blog post on the many joys of working at the Ohio Historical Society! Juli Six

Posted December 3, 2013
Topics: Archaeology

eNewsletter Sign-Up