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

Oral health and dietary change during the Epipalaeolithic-Neolithic transition in Northwest Africa


1Earth Sciences, The Natural History Museum, 2Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology, Liverpool John Moores University

Saturday 10:15-10:30, Ballroom B Add to calendar

This study evaluates changes in oral pathologies and dental attrition between the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic inNorthwest Africa, to test the prediction that the transition from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural lifestyle would result in a decline in overall oral health. Dento-alveolar pathologies were analysed in 111 individuals (2039 tooth sites) from the Iberomaurusian (20,000BP-8,000BP), 20 individuals (410 tooth sites) from the Capsian (10,000BP – 7,000BP), 18 individuals from the Neolithic and a historic sample fromAlgeriaof 31 individuals (811 tooth sites). Each sample was subdivided by age category (young adult, middle adult, old adult).

The Neolithic sample shows a prevalence and pattern of oral pathology similar to that reported for other early agricultural populations. Contrary to predictions, the Iberomaurusian and Capsian hunter-gatherers show an extremely high prevalence of oral pathologies. Post-canine antemortem tooth loss, abscess and caries prevalence for the hunter-gatherers was greater than that of the Neolithic sample. High caries prevalence in the hunter-gatherers may be partly attributable to high attrition rates. Young adult and middle aged adult exhibited higher rates of attrition during the Iberomaurusian and Capsian times than in subsequent groups.

Tooth morphology and fluoride levels in ground water are relatively constant across the region and time period and would have contributed little to the prevalence of pathologies. The high prevalence of caries in non-agricultural groups could be caused by a high cariogenicity of oral bacteria and/or a diet rich in fermentable carbohydrates. Analyses of recently excavated Iberomaurusians from Taforalt are used to clarify this issue.

This work was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

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