The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Variation in Australian Aboriginal diets: contrasting dental patterns from South Australia


Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland

Thursday 11:15-11:30, Broadway III/IV Add to calendar

Studies of Australian Aboriginal teeth have often concentrated upon the extent and patterning of dental wear emphasising the abrasive nature of hunter-gatherer diets or the use of teeth as tools but have rarely undergone more complete analyses of dental pathology or examined variation between individuals or groups. In this study, we analyse dental remains from two coastal areas of Southern Australia examining dental microwear and dental pathology in order to evaluate the level of variability across space.

The two samples, from Gilman mound and Yorke Peninsula, are held at the South Australian Museum and were recorded as part of an ongoing collaborative project with Aboriginal communities. The Gilman remains (n=17 individuals) come from one mound with burials dated between 1000 - 500 years BP. In contrast, the Yorke Peninsula remains (n=24) come from a range of undated locations. Some of these remains are postcontact as indicated through pipe facets or burial inclusions associated with the skeletons. The dental conditions recorded include macrowear, caries, calculus, AMTL, abscessing, and periodontal disease. Dental microwear was assessed by quantifying the microwear features of pits and scratches from images taken using a scanning electron microscope.

Based on previous evidence, both sets of remains could be expected to be exploiting similar resources (with the exception of postcontact remains). While the pattern of dental pathology is dominated by severe dental wear, there are, however, striking differences in the pattern of wear and the accumulation of dental calculus, which may be due to differential exploitation of food resources.

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