The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

The precarious state of subsistence: reevaluating dental pathological lesions associated with agricultural and hunter-gatherer lifeways


1Department of Anthropology, The Ohio State University, 2Department of Anthropology, University of California, Merced, 3Instituto de Investigaciones Arqueológicas, Universidad Católica del Norte

March 27, 2015 11:00, Grand Ballroom C Add to calendar

Numerous bioarchaeological studies emphasize an increase in dental lesions associated with the transition to agricultural subsistence. Unfortunately, this diachronic trend has led to the conflation and oversimplification of specific dental pathologies with specific subsistence strategies. This meta-study builds upon the initial work of Christy Turner II, with recent data from 140 archaeological sites peer-reviewed anthropology publications, on the distribution of dental pathologies (caries, antemortem tooth loss, abscesses, and linear enamel hypoplasia) among classified agricultural and hunter-gatherer subsistence groups. Subsistence (agricultural versus hunter-gatherer) and climatic (temperature variation, altitude, and precipitation) variables are tested as possible predictors of dental lesion variability. Despite significant differences in the average prevalence of caries between agricultural and hunter-gatherer populations, the variation in caries prevalence shows high (50%) overlap between the subsistence patterns. Additionally, differences in the prevalence of antemortem tooth loss, abscesses, and linear enamel hypoplasia among agricultural and hunter-gatherer populations are not significant and also show demonstrative overlaps in confidence interval ranges. Although climate is not a unilinear predictor of dental lesions, results indicate that individual climatic factors are significantly correlated with the prevalence of antemortem tooth loss and linear enamel hypoplasia among agricultural and hunter-gatherer populations. These results emphasize the need for a reevaluation of specific dental pathologies as pathognomonic indicators of broad subsistence patterns. In conclusion, our results call attention to the complicated, multifactorial pathogenesis of dental lesions and highlight the non-linear relationship between dental pathologies and specific biocultural environments.