Monday, April 18, 2022

Mundane But Necessary: A Look at Dental Care

Sometimes we take small, everyday things for granted. Have you ever wondered who invented hairbrushes, buttons, or flashlights? Today’s blog will look at one of these mundane but necessary objects of daily life.

Who were the first people to use the toothbrush?  The first recorded form of teeth cleaning was by the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, who would chew on the frayed ends of sticks from aromatic trees to clean their teeth and freshen their breath. Chew sticks, or miswaks, have been found in Egyptian tombs along with vinegar and ground pumice, which were used to whiten the smile. People in some African countries still use these chew sticks today and they are commercially available on the internet, touted as a more sustainable alternative to plastic.

A recipe for toothpaste was found in an ancient Egyptian document. Crushed and mixed together, these ingredients were said to make a “powder for white and perfect teeth” (Toothpaste - Welcome to Ancient Egypt! ( -

1 drachma (.01 oz) of rock salt

2 drachmas of mint

1 drachma of dried iris flower

20 grains of pepper

Other people used a cloth, or a cloth wrapped stick to rub the teeth to clean them. Some used salt or different herbs as a type of toothpaste. Native Americans may have used sticks with pine needles or animal hair attached to brush their teeth and a type of toothpaste made from the herb tarragon or the cucacua plant. Although in general, most people did not regularly practice brushing their teeth until well into the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

Around the 15th century, the Chinese are generally credited with the invention of the toothbrush. A handle made of animal bone or bamboo was attached to the stiff hair bristles of a hog. Later, when these toothbrushes were brought to Europe, the hog bristles were replaced with wild boar or horse hairs.

The first modern toothbrush was invented in England around 1780 by William Addis, a rag merchant. Addis was serving time in Newgate Prison where he allegedly saved an animal bone from his meal and after drilling small holes in it, he attached hairs from a boar. The toothbrush worked so well that once Addis was released from prison, he began to mass produce his invention. The company he started was known first as Addis but was later renamed Wisdom Toothbrushes.  

In America, the first toothbrush patent was not filed until 1857, when Hiram Wadsworth made improvements to the design. Most toothbrushes were made of bone at this time because it was an inexpensive material and stood up to water better than wood. Wealthier people may have had brushes made of ivory, silver, gilt, and mother of pearl, but the preferred material was bone. 

Bone Toothbrush from site 36DE0130 (photo by CHRS, Inc.)

Toothpastes in the form of powders made with soap, chalk, and charcoal were popular through the nineteenth century and were packaged in jars. By the 1890s, toothpaste was available in tubes.

Nineteenth Century Toothpaste Ad (Library of Congress)

By the turn of the 20th century, most toothbrushes were being made from celluloid, an early type of plastic. Following the invention of nylon in 1935, DuPont chemical replaced the animal hair bristles with nylon bristles. A number of toothbrushes of all varieties, including celluloid, were recovered from the Market Street Bridge Site (36DE0130) in Philadelphia. Excavations were conducted in the rear yards of several houses associated with black and white working-class families in the 1920s. These finds indicate that similar patterns of material consumption were taking place between people of different races in this neighborhood.

Bone and Celluloid Toothbrushes from site 36DE0130 (Photo by CHRS, Inc.)

Early 20th Century Zanol Brand Celluloid Toothbrush from site 36DE0130 (Photo by CHRS, Inc.)

Electric toothbrushes were first invented in the 1930s but not widely used until after 1960. New types of toothpastes and mouthwashes that provided better dental care came on the market during this time.

Rolled Toothpaste Tube with Key from the Merkey House site (36BK0891) and Late Nineteenth Century Glyco-Thymoline Mouthwash Bottle from the Market Street Bridge site (36DE0130) (Photo by PHMC)

Today’s toothbrushes are made of molded plastic with nylon bristles. These modern brushes are more hygienic and scientifically generated toothpastes, mouth washes, and sprays work to keep the mouth healthy and clean. Incidentally, for those of us working in the Section of Archaeology toothbrushes are important to our job - we use them to brush and clean artifacts.

View of toothbrushes in the Section of Archaeology Lab (Photo by PHMC)

We hope you have enjoyed finding out some information about an object that we use every day and that is so important to our overall health. It’s hard to believe but a survey in 2003 ranked the toothbrush as the number one invention that Americans could not live without – beating out the car, cell phone, personal computer, and microwave! Archaeology reveals the little things we use on a regular basis and provides an opportunity to examine daily activities of people, from the mundane to the exceptional. These artifacts enhance and improve our understanding of the past.

For additional information on toothbrushes and dental care check out the collections on the PHMC website or the sites listed below.


Additional Reading:

Thehistory of the toothbrush - The Health Science Journal

Whoinvented the toothbrush and when was it invented? | Library of Congress(

HistoryOf Toothbrushes And Toothpastes (

DiagnosticArtifacts in Maryland

AVisual History of the Toothbrush | Museum of Every Day Life

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Friday, April 1, 2022

Archaeology Conferences and Annual Meetings

It is that time of year again, conference time! The coming together of students, researchers, and archaeologists to share their knowledge of new sites, research projects, and general banter of all things archaeology.  Archaeologists benefit from these conferences in hearing about sites that might relate to their current research or a project they may have had in the past. New technological methods of research discussed can be utilized in examining other collections. The dissemination of information not only resonates with the archaeological community, but also with the public is part of our training and mission to share the archaeological record with everyone.

 Last week the Mid Atlantic Archaeological Conference (MAAC) took place in Ocean City, Maryland. This was a great meeting with strong student participation from schools throughout the mid-Atlantic region.  Meanwhile, the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) meeting is taking place this week from March 30th – April 3rd in Chicago, Illinois.  The SAA meeting brings together archaeologists from across the country to share knowledge and help develop our understanding of the archaeological record. Visit the SAA program for more information. 

Finally, after a two-year pandemic related hiatus, the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Annual Meeting is back! Next weekend, April 8-10, 2022, marks the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology’s (SPA) 91st annual meeting, being held at the Fort Ligonier Educational Center. This year the SPA meeting is hosted by the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Board of Directors at the Fort Ligonier Educational Center. The meeting theme is Forging Ahead: Innovation in Pennsylvania Archaeology.  

Starting things off, the Pennsylvania Archaeological Council (PAC) symposium begins at 1:00 pm on Friday, April 8th with an introductory session on the “Archaeology of Blacksmith Shops”, followed by a field trip to the Compass Inn Museum. This field trip includes a tour of the museum, a blacksmithing demonstration and viewing the blacksmith shop artifact exhibit. Museum admission is $10.  Visit PAC symposium for more information.   

The presentation of the 2022 SPA papers will begin on Saturday, April 9. These presentations are open to the public and presented by students, avocational and professional archaeologists. Throughout the day attendees can visit the book room and join in on the silent auction, which is replacing the usual live auction that, in the past, has followed the banquet. Registration at the door is $35.00 for the public and $25.00 for students.

As in the past there will be a banquet and awards ceremony to end the day on Saturday. The venue is the St. Clair room at the Ramada by Wyndham, Ligonier, PA.  The banquet speaker is Matt Gault, Fort Ligonier’s Director of Education. His presentation titled; “Perspectives of George Washington’s Friendly Fire Incident” should prove insightful.

Here is a preliminary list of the presentations that will be made during the Saturday and Sunday morning sessions of the SPA meeting:

Blacksmith, wheelwright, or wagon maker? A view from the Meyers/Pickel Wagon Shop Kenneth J. Basalik, Ph.D

The Kresge Shop Site (36MR0295) – 19th Century Village Industry and Development Allison Brewer

“Wagons Breaking to Pieces and Horses Wanting Shoes”: Detecting Eighteenth Century Blacksmith Activity at Frontier Fortifications Jonathan A. Burns, Juniata College


Digging Deeper: Resources for Archival Research and Historical Documents Related to Blacksmithing Sites, Laura C. Ricketts


Archaeology of the Defibaugh Blacksmith Shop, Bedford County, PA Chris Espenshade, New South Associates, Inc.


What Kind of Blacksmith Shop is It? Brian L. Fritz, M.S., RPA, GISP, Quemahoning LLC, Amanda L. Valko, M.A., RPA, North Fork Chapter 29, SPA


A Tale of 19th Century Blacksmithing in Morrisons Cove Justin D. McKeel


Investigations of the McQuilken Blacksmith Shop Site, Indiana County, PA Jessica Schumer-Rowles, The Markosky Engineering Group


Archaeological Site Recording in PA-SHARE Taylor Napoleon, PA SHPO, PA Archaeological Site Survey Coordinator (PASS), Noel D. Strattan, PA SHPO, PA-SHARE Administrator


In Defense of Richard Georges’ Johnston Phase: More Than a Few Trade Pots, William C. Johnson, Research Associate in Anthropology, Carnegie Museum of Natural History


The Late Paleoindian Lanceolate Problem in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania., Bill Tippins


Alpenglow Rockshelter - Discover, Dig, Document David Gutkowski, Chapter 11 – Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology


Archaeological Investigations on Duncan’s Island, at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers in Central Pennsylvania

Gary Coppock, Skelly & Loy, A Terracon Company


Digging Deeper: Mechanized Archaeology in the Hunt for Stratified Paleoindian Sites Brian Fritz


Susquehannocks and the Shenks Ferry Type Site (36LA2) James T. Herbstritt


The Peopling of the Americas: A summary of new data Kurt W. Carr, Ph.D.


Small Stream Floodplain Stability and Site Location: An Example from Southwestern Pennsylvania

Paul A. Raber, Heberling Associates, Inc.and Frank J. Vento, Quaternary Geological and Environmental Consultants, LLC.


Protecting the Unknown in Watershed 18B: the Kiskiminetas River and Beaver Run Stephanie Zellers


35 years in Southwestern PA: Developing an evaluative methodology for farmstead archaeological sites Kira Heinrich


LiDAR prospection of a 19th century ore mining landscape in northwestern Pennsylvania Charles E. Williams, Williams Ecological, LLC



Laura Coley, John Nass, Jr., Douglas Corwin, Michael Santella, and Beverly Santella, Mon-Yough Chapter #3


Using high resolution lidar to map a nineteenth century industrial landscape. Linda Kennedy & Lee Stocks, Mansfield University


COOPERING AT THE BROWNSTOWN MILL COMPLEX: Phase III Archaeology Data Recovery of the Hellberg Site (36LA1519), West Earl Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Michael L. Young, PhD, RPA, Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc.

If you are interested in any of these presentations and would like to attend the meeting, please visit the SPA for additional information: We hope you have found this information useful, and you will join us in learning about the Pennsylvania archaeological record at the SPA meeting.  If you are unable to attend the annual meeting, you may want to check out a local chapter of the Society in or near your community.  We hope you will seek out the archaeological and historical heritage of your community as we are all stewards of the past, preserving it for future generations.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Inc. was organized in 1929 to: Promote the study of the prehistoric and historic archaeological resources of Pennsylvania and neighboring states; Encourage scientific research and discourage exploration which is unscientific or irresponsible in intent or practice; Promote the conservation of archaeological sites, artifacts, and information; Encourage the establishment and maintenance of of archaeological information such as museums, societies, and educational programs; Promote the dissemination of archaeology by means of publications and forums; Foster the exchange of information between the professional and the avocational archaeologists.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .