The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Dental pathology at Shabona, a Khartoum Mesolithic site


School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University

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Dental pathology recorded in human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts informs the relationship between diet and health in past populations. Prehistoric African foragers, however, remain a poorly documented group despite our knowledge of their diverse subsistence behaviors. Using standard macroscopic data collection protocols for pathological assessment, this study examines the evidence for dental disease and enamel defects from the Khartoum Mesolithic (>7000-5000 BC) site of Shabona (n=7; six adults, one subadult) to provide valuable health and subsistence information about prehistoric hunter-fisher-gatherers of central Sudan.

Atypical for African Mesolithic skeletal samples, the Shabona remains exhibit a relatively high frequency of dental caries (26/89 teeth, 29%; n=5 individuals). Excluding the most complete individual (#11049) from the overall rate due to exceptionally severe oral pathology, however, yields a low frequency of carious teeth (2/61 teeth, 3%; n=4 individuals). Linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH), a marker of childhood physiological or nutritional stress, was identified in the maxillary incisors and canines of two individuals, but was otherwise absent in the collection. Evidence for possible dental ablation of the central maxillary incisors was also documented (#11044) and is consistent with the pattern of cultural modification found at the Khartoum Mesolithic site of ‘Khartoum Hospital.’

The small number of individuals at Shabona limits the ability to generalize about the relationship between oral health and hunter-fisher-gatherers of the Khartoum Mesolithic. When combined with evidence for dental disease and enamel growth disturbances in contemporaneous skeletal samples and subsequent Neolithic groups in the region, however, a broader perspective is achieved.

This research was supported in part by the ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the ASU Graduate and Professional Student Association JumpStart Grant (#4863).

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