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

The efficacy of traditional dental lifestyle markers in describing actual lifestyle


1Instituto de Investigaciones Arqueológicas y Museo, Universidad Católica del Norte, 2Anthropology, Colorado College

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Traditionally, osteological markers have been used to reconstruct lifestyle patterns, even in the absence of concrete archaeological evidence indicative of particular behaviors. This assumption rests on the notion that the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural lifestyles is generally linear, with quality of life decreasing with the adoption of sedentism. Here, we explore the accuracy of this assumption by evaluating the incidence of dental markers of diet and nutrition recovered from over 300 worldwide sample populations in the published literature. Our analyses indicate a nuanced and complex relationship between marker incidence and lifestyle. Average caries incidence is higher among agriculturalists (12.3%) than among terrestrial and marine based hunter-gatherers (3.3% and 4.05%, respectively). However, the range of incidence of caries between lifestyles overlaps considerably, and it is impossible to discriminate between lifestyles based solely on this. Similarly, abscesses show an increase in rates between terrestrial and marine hunter-gatherers (3.0% and 4.3%) and agriculturalists (9.32%), again with large overlaps in the range. However, AMTL rates between agriculturalists (17.8%) and terrestrial hunter-gatherers (15.2%) do not vary greatly, with a significant difference existing between these groups and marine hunter-gatherers (7.5%). Linear enamel hypoplasia incidence is actually highest in terrestrial hunter-gather populations, with a rate of 29.4%, as compared to 26.6% for marine hunter-gatherers and 22.1% for agriculturalists. In conclusion, the incidences of these markers cannot be correlated exclusively to traditionally defined subsistence patterns. Due to their complex and multi-factorial etiology, we stress that they should only be interpreted in context with archaeological data.

This research was supported by the Fulbright Program and NSF (BCS-0721229)

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