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

The use of Arctic samples as a proxy for Neandertals: cautions and advances from incisor microwear texture analysis


Department of Anthropology, Loyola University Chicago

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The application of Arctic aboriginal samples as a proxy for Neandertals, especially as they relate to facets of dental wear and mandibular stresses associated with non-dietary anterior tooth use behaviors, is commonplace; however, Arctic samples are often used interchangeably. This is problematic as Arctic communities span vast geographic, temporal, and cultural areas, and dietary and behavioral strategies differ greatly. The purpose of this study is to examine the incisor microwear of several Arctic samples to identify these differences, and to better refine their application in paleoanthropological contexts.

Incisor microwear textures were collected from high-resolution casts of five arctic samples (Aleut, Coast Tsimshian, Ipiutak, Nunavut Territory, and Tigara) using white-light confocal profilometry with a 100x objective lens. Four adjacent scans were collected for each maxillary central incisor, totaling a work envelope of 204x276 ┬Ám for each individual. These scans were uploaded into Toothfrax and SFrax SSFA software packages and the resulting data were analyzed.

Results show significant differences in complexity, anisotropy, textural fill volume, and both variants of heterogeneity. All five samples demonstrate evidence for non-dietary anterior tooth use behaviors; however, unique texture signatures are associated with specific behaviors. The Nunavut and Ipiutak have textures related to heavy, frequent clamping and grasping activities, while the Aleut and Tigara display a more relaxed regimen. The Coast Tsimshian have a signature related to softening vegetation. These data suggest that not all Arctic samples are alike in their anterior tooth use behaviors, and comparisons with Neandertals should be viewed in light of these differences.

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

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