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

Caries prevalence and the late prehistoric Dallas phase: A regional cultural pattern of female maize consumption in Late Prehistoric East Tennessee


1Department of Anthropology, SUNY College at Oneonta, 2Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Illinois State University

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Oral health, as a proxy for diet, has been illustrative in exploring within-group and between-groups patterns of consumption reflective of larger cultural trends. Frequently, maize agricultural groups in the Americas have demonstrated higher rates of dental caries and, thus, greater consumption of corn by females, which is often attributed to sexual division of labor and/or pregnancy. However, this pattern is by no means universal and notable exceptions have been reported for several sites, including in prehistoric East Tennessee. The purpose of this paper is to examine the broader trends of oral health in this region, to assess whether the trend is unique to the cultural group in question, and to investigate potential cultural explanations for the observed patterns.

A total of 475 adult dentitions (219 males, 223 females) were assessed for dental caries, antemortem tooth loss, and dental calculus from five Dallas phase (AD 1300-1550) sites. Statistical comparisons were conducted using chi-square and Fisher’s exact (p<0.05). Results indicate that dental pathology does not differ between males and females; however, in an earlier Late Woodland/Early Mississippian period (The Hamilton Mortuary Complex, AD 900-1100), the female prevalence was equivalent to the Dallas phase but males were markedly lower. The lack of temporal difference in female caries rates suggests that patterns of consumption changed in the male segment of society. Comparing the Dallas phase results to Mississippian samples from contemporary and geographically adjacent northern Georgia suggests that this pattern is unique to East Tennessee, reflecting specific cultural consumption patterns of maize.

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