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

The interaction of reproductive physiology and biocultural ecology: a comparison of prehistoric oral pathology in two American deserts


Arizona State Museum & School of Anthropology, University of Arizona

Saturday 4:45-5:00, Galleria South Add to calendar

Caries and tooth loss were recorded in 200 Formative period (1500 B.C-A.D. 500) skeletons from the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and 142 Early Agricultural period (1600 B.C-A.D. 150) skeletons from the Sonoran Desert in northwest Mexico to compare how differences in local ecology and subsistence practices interacted with sex-based differences in oral pathology. The archaeological periods represent the transition to agricultural dependence in both areas, but rich local ecologies facilitated a mixed subsistence strategy—based on marine resources along the Atacama coast and a diversity of edible succulents in the Sonoran inland. Applying the theoretical approach that reproductive physiology among women negatively affects patterns in oral health, caries and antemortem tooth loss were compared between sexes by age, between regions. Results identify a marked distinction between the severity and progression of carious lesions compared to tooth loss between males and females. Caries rates were higher and more variable in the Chilean sample and therefore subject to differences in subsistence practices. Tooth loss however, which is further influenced by alveolar bone density, oscillates in severity by subsistence practices but maintain an age-progressive pattern that affects women differentially as a result of the connection between lifelong hormonal fluctuations and bone loss. These findings highlight the complicated etiology of oral disease, particularly in past populations, and imply that the interplay between oral bacteria, reproductive physiology, and biocultural ecology shape differential patterns in oral pathology.

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