Scientists have discovered the long-buried secret of a 17th-century French aristocrat 400 years after her death: She was using gold floss to keep her teeth from falling out.
The body of Anne d’Alegre, who died in 1619, was discovered during an archaeological excavation at the Château de Laval in northwestern France in 1988.
Embalmed in a lead coffin, his skeleton and teeth were remarkably well preserved.
Archaeologists noted at the time that he had a dental prosthesis, but they didn’t have advanced scanning tools to find out more.
Thirty-five years later, a team of archaeologists and dentists have identified that d’Alegre suffered from periodontal disease that caused her to lose her teeth, according to a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports this week.
“Beyond therapeutic care alone and far from coquetry alone, this study also shows the importance of appearance for aristocratic women under strong social constraints (such as stress or widowhood),” the study authors write.
A “Cone Beam” scan, which uses X-rays to build three-dimensional images, showed that gold wire had been used to hold and set many of his teeth together.
He also had an artificial tooth made of elephant ivory, not hippopotamus, which was popular at the time.
The scientists said their paper ‘provides the first demonstration of a link between a diagnosis and treatment on an individual identified using the new digital technologies used in modern dentistry’.
But the ornate dental work only “made it worse,” she said Rosen Colleterarchaeologist at the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research and lead author of the study.
The gold threads would have needed repeated strengthening over the years, further destabilizing neighboring teeth, the researchers said.
D’Alegre probably suffered for more than just medical reasons. There was enormous pressure on aristocratic women at a time when looks were seen as related to worth and rank in society.
Ambroise Pare, a contemporary of d’Alegre who was the physician to several French kings and designed similar dental prostheses, said that “if a patient is toothless, his speech becomes depraved,” Colleter told AFP.
A beautiful smile was especially important to d’Alegre, a “controversial” twice-widowed socialite “who didn’t have a good reputation,” Colleter added.
D’Alegre lived through a troubled period in French history.
She was a Huguenot, Protestant who fought against the Catholics in the French Wars of Religion in the late 1500s.
At the age of 21, she was already once a widow and had a young son, Guy XX de Laval.
When the country descended into the Eighth Religious War, d’Alegre and his son were forced into hiding from Catholic forces while their property was seized by the king.
His son then converted to Catholicism and went to fight in Hungary, dying in battle aged 20.
After being widowed a second time, d’Alegre died of illness at the age of 54.
D’Alegre’s teeth “show he’s been through a lot of stress,” Colleter said.
The researcher said she hoped the research would “rehabilitate her a little bit.”
Serious periodontal disease is estimated to affect nearly one-fifth of the world’s adults, according to the World Health Organization.
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