A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Dental Wealth Volume 56 Number 4, July/August 2003
by Bob Hudson

This jawbone, featuring teeth with gold foil inlays, may have belonged to a member of the Gold Teeth tribe. (Courtesy Bob Hudson)

A recent archaeological discovery suggests that a barbarian tribe known to the Chinese as the "Gold Teeth" may have acquired its name quite literally. Farmers in Halin, a first-millenium A.D. walled city 40 miles north of Mandalay, Myanmar (Burma), discovered a skeleton with eight upper teeth decorated with gold. Chinese historical records mention a "Gold Teeth" tribe living in the area between Burma and what is now the Chinese province of Yunnan over a thousand years ago.

Each of the eight teeth had been drilled with a pattern of tiny holes, and these were packed with gold foil. The pain of drilling must have been considerable. Earthenware containers thought to have been used for distilling alcohol have been found at Halin, suggesting a form of anaesthetic was available.

Discoveries of stone and bronze tools indicate that Halin has been continuously occupied for more than three thousand years. The city was part of an ancient trade route between China and India. The gold teeth and their owner most likely date to the first millennium A.D., when both the resources and technology were available to provide this elegant form of cosmetic dentistry. The gold foil inlays from Halin appear to be the earliest example of dental work from mainland Southeast Asia.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America