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

Dental ablation in ancient Nubia: evulsion at the Ginefab School site


Center for Bioarchaeological Research, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University

Thursday All day, Plaza Level Add to calendar

Dental ablation, or evulsion, involves intentional removal of one or more teeth. It may be performed for many reasons and has been used to investigate health, medical treatment, marriage patterns, conceptualization of beauty and social roles in past and present populations. A systematic approach to the differential diagnosis of ablation was developed through the exclusion of tooth agenesis; antemortem loss due to trauma, disease, or aging; and postmortem loss. Using the criteria established, 96 individuals with observable dentitions were analyzed from the Ginefab School site, a cemetery upstream of the Fourth Cataract in northern Sudan that spans the end of the Meroitic period (c. 350 BC-AD 350) through the Christian period (c. AD 550-1400). Nine individuals (9.4%), all adults (12.7% of 71), show dental ablation. Eight of the nine cases (88.9%) involved removal of one to three mandibular incisors. Five of 41 males (12.2 %) and four of 30 females (13.3%) are affected. Ablation is more common in the late Meroitic to Post-Meroitic sample (6 of 51, 11.8 %) than the Christian period sample (3 of 45, 6.7%).

Dental ablation is known in Neolithic skeletal samples from Sudan, but has not been recognized previously in Nubians from more recent periods. The frequency and pattern in this skeletal sample suggests that tooth evulsion had a social/identity role in Meroitic to Christian period Nubians, but was not a rite of passage for all. Expansion of this research to other Nubian skeletal samples is needed to elucidate the cultural significance of the practice.

This skeletal collection derives from fieldwork directed by Baker under licenses granted to Arizona State University by the US Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (Nos. SU-1897 & SU-2122), with support for fieldwork and lab processing provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (Award Nos. 07-1391, 07-1424, & 08-1472 [OFAC license No. SU-2071]) and The Regents of the University of California, and by the National Science Foundation (BCS-0647055).

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