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

Anterior dental microwear textures of European Upper Paleolithic humans differed from those of Neandertals


Division of Morphological Sciences & Biostatistics, Department of Community Health, Wright State University

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The unique anterior dental wear pattern found on some Neandertal specimens has often been explained as non-dietary anterior tooth use, i.e., using the anterior dentition as a tool or third hand. While previous analyses have shown that not all Neandertals participated in these activities, comparative research has yet to be completed on European Upper Paleolithic (EUP) humans. Identifying differences or consistencies in behavioral strategies between these two European hominins is important, and can provide a unique view of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition.

Dental microwear textures were collected from high-resolution casts of over 30 EUP humans with a white-light confocal profiler using a 100x objective lens. Each individual is represented by four adjacent scans, totaling an area of 204 x 276 ┬Ám. The scans were uploaded into Toothfrax and SFrax SSFA software for surface texture characterization. The resulting data were then compared to my extensive Neandertal database of 65 individuals.

European Upper Paleolithic humans were homogeneous in their microwear texture signals. Overall, their anterior dentition was characterized by high anisotropy, moderately high fill volume, and moderate heterogeneity and complexity. These hominins likely did not participate in non-dietary anterior tooth use, and were exposed to moderate-to-high abrasive loads. This signal remained constant when the EUP sample was examined by climate, location, and MIS; however, the Neandertals differed significantly in all three of these factors. This suggests the EUP humans employed different behavioral strategies than Neandertals, perhaps related to a more extensive toolkit that released the anterior dentition from non-dietary use.

This study was funded by the NSF DDIG program (BCS-0925818).

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