The 87th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2018)

The Medieval Mouth: Interpreting Oral Health in European Populations


1Anthropology and Sociology, Western Carolina University, 2Anthropology, University of South Florida, 3Archaeology, Haáz Rezső Museum, 4Archaeology, ArchaeoTek-Canada

April 12, 2018 , Hill Country D Add to calendar

Accurate assessment of dental health in archaeologically derived skeletal assemblages is challenging. The lack of soft tissue and patient history results in generalized etiologies, which can lead to over-interpretation of population health. To demonstrate this, a literature review of medieval health in European populations was performed to identify trends in interpretation as well as to demonstrate how our on-going work in the Székely region of Transylvania fits with others. Next, 67 individuals recovered from a medieval Székely cemetery were analyzed for age, sex, and dental health as indicated by calculus, caries, and abscesses. Burial position within the church suggests that individuals of high social standing were interred near the front of the church, while others were placed further away in the church yard or outside the yard wall; therefore, individuals from these three locations were included in analysis. Using burial location as an indicator of status, results show that frequency of dental caries and amount of calculus did not differ across burial location. Frequency of abscesses were slightly higher among individuals interred outside of the church. When examined on a smaller scale it is thought that individual access to resources and lifestyle need to be considered in interpretation of etiology of pathological modification of teeth. This is illustrated by the remains of a nobleman who presented with two abscesses that may have been the result of trauma to the tooth rather than diet as often assumed when interpreting dental health.