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

Caries and other oral pathology in the Broken Hill (Kabwe) cranium


Department of Anthropology, Washington University in Saint Louis

Friday All day, Park Concourse Add to calendar

The Broken Hill cranium exhibits some of the most severe oral pathologies seen outside the Holocene. The specimen has been central to discussions of Middle Pleistocene human evolution given its completeness—and despite its lack of a secure geological age. The few previous papers addressing the oral pathology of Broken Hill have focused on diagnosing a larger syndrome to explain the extensive caries and alveolar resorption, often in the context of diagnosing its temporal lesions (lead poisoning, honey consumption, ignorance of toothpicks, etc.). However none of these papers or the original monograph has provided a detailed tooth-by-tooth description of the pathologies themselves. All but five of the present maxillary teeth have carious lesions, some of a gross stage (one tooth was lost postmortem). There is also periodontal resorption, periapical infection, pulpal exposure and secondary dentin, which are all partially inter-related, as well as with the mastoiditis. Caries are rare in the Pleistocene (presently known before the latest Pleistocene from Zhirendong, Qafzeh, Aubesier, Palomas, and Les Rois, all outside Africa); therefore, a detailed study of the severity of the pathology in Broken Hill is highly warranted. Caries have been recorded in tropical contexts in chimpanzees and Paranthropus robustus, but remained extremely rare in Homo until the dietary and morbidity changes of the Agricultural Revolution, making Broken Hill highly exceptional. Ultimately many of the previous diagnoses are conjectural and a thorough analysis of the pathologies themselves provides the basis for a comprehensive diagnosis of the lesions and further comparative research.

Supported by the Leakey Foundation and Washington University.

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