The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Who and when? Dental modification in coastal Ecuador


1Anthropology, University of North Carolina Charlotte, 2Archaeological Services, DirectAMS Radiocarbon Dating

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Dental modification has been previously identified from several pre-Hispanic Ecuadorian burials, interpreted as an important marker of wealth and identity. However, most known cases are from museum collections or other circumstances without clear provenience or cultural affiliation. We sampled four individuals with dental modification from the Museo Arqueológico y Arte Contemporáneo in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in order to obtain more data on the practitioners and antiquity of coastal dental modification. Specifically, we tested four teeth for radiocarbon dates, and collected demographic and pathological skeletal data to identify patterns in dental modification. We identified three distinct types of dental modification (gold alloy insets, gold alloy appliques, and grooved cross-hatching). One probable male, two probable females, and one indeterminate individual presented some form of dental modification. All individuals were adults above the age of 20. Radiocarbon dates returned a range of 1065-352 radiocarbon years, suggesting this was an enduring practice over time. One calibrated range extends into the colonial period, perhaps indicating that people continued to practice dental modification even throughout Spanish presence. All individuals presented diffuse cranial porosity (indicating malnutrition or systemic bodily stress) and one individual had a well-healed maxillary fracture. We interpret these results as suggestive that dental modification was not restricted to elite individuals but may have been accessible to many coastal Ecuadorians over time.

Funding for this project was provided by a UNC Charlotte Faculty Research Grant. 

Slides/Poster (pdf)