School of Archaeology & Anthropology, Australian National University
Saturday 4:15-4:30, Galleria South
Discussions of the aetiology of oral disease in the bioarchaeological literature have often been contextualised within regional and global models of diet and/or subsistence behaviour: e.g., decline in oral health with the adoption/intensification of agriculture. In recent years there has been a push to include demographically driven factors: e.g., deteriorating oral health with increasing fertility. With so many competing aetiological factors it seems time to return to the case by case differential diagnosis when weighing contributory factors to oral disease. This approach is explored with respect to the patterning of oral health seen in a range of Neolithic to Metal Age Mainland Southeast Asian assemblages. In is concluded that in understanding the underlying causes of poor levels of oral health, seen in the earliest (initial Neolithic) assemblages in the region (e.g. caries rates in excess of 10% by tooth count), a range of factors have played a significant role: cariogenicity of rice vs. root crops, food processing (and storage) behaviours, local geochemical conditions, base line community health (elevated levels of cribra orbitalia and linear enamel hypoplasia characterise these early assemblages) and elevated rates of fertility (15P5 values in excess of 25%). Importantly, no one factor would seem to account for poor oral health during the initial Neolithic in Southeast Asia, making it difficult to use oral health as a proxy for any single human behaviour.