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

An oral health assessment of coastal and inland early and middle Neolithic south China and Taiwan


1Department of Anthropology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2Institute of Archaeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 3Department of Anthropology, Bishop Museum, 4Department of Archaeology, Zhejiang Provincial Institute of Antiquity and Archaeology

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Previous studies of prehistoric health in Southeast Asia find skeletal samples at the transition to agriculture do not follow the same pattern of decline as seen in other areas of the world. This paper examines the oral health of early and middle Neolithic groups (7000-4500 BP) from riverine and coastal environments of south China and Taiwan, a region considered part of Southeast Asia. Using several indicators of oral/dental health and lifestyle (dental caries, antemortem tooth loss-AMTL, alveolar defects, dental calculus, and dental attrition) this study examines the biocultural implications of subsistence changes from the early to middle Neolithic in coastal and inland riverine environments of southeast China. Skeletal assemblages investigated include Dingshihshan culture, Guangxi (c. 6000 years BP), Hemudu culture, Zhejiang (c. 6000 years BP), Tanshishan culture, Fujian (c. 4500 years BP) and Nankuanli East (NKLE), Tainan County, Taiwan (c. 5000 years BP). The hypotheses tested is that higher frequencies of stress will be observed in the middle Neolithic samples and in samples that may be more reliant on agriculture such as the inland riverine sample of Dingshihshan. Oral health profiles suggest these samples follow the same general patterns as Southeast Asian samples. Low levels of caries, infectious disease, and AMTL suggest these groups were relatively healthy but inland samples with restricted resources and middle Neolithic samples more reliant on agriculture are subject to higher stress. Inland samples have lower levels of AMTL than coastal samples and higher levels of wear and calculus suggesting different subsistence activities.

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