December 14, 2005

Teeth before and after the advent of agriculture

American Journal of Physical Anthropology (Early View)

Tooth wear and dental pathology at the advent of agriculture: New evidence from the Levant

Vered Eshed, Avi Gopher , Israel Hershkovitz


Differences in patterns of diet and subsistence through the analysis of dental pathology and tooth wear were studied in skeletal populations of Natufian hunter-gatherers (10,500-8300 BC) and Neolithic populations (8300-5500 BC, noncalibrated) from the southern Levant. 1,160 Natufians and 804 Neolithic teeth were examined for rate of attrition, caries, antemortem tooth loss, calculus, periapical lesions, and periodontal processes. While the Natufian people manifest a higher rate of dental attrition and periodontal disease (36.4% vs. 19%), Neolithic people show a higher rate of calculus. Both populations manifested low and similar rates of caries (6.4% in the Natufian vs. 6.7% in the Neolithic), periapical lesions (not over 1.5%), and antemortem tooth loss (3.7% vs. 4.5%, respectively). Molar wear pattern in the Neolithic is different than in the Natufian. The current study shows that the dental picture obtained from the two populations is multifactorial in nature, and not exclusively of dietary origin, i.e., the higher rate and unique pattern of attrition seen in the Natufian could result from a greater consumption of fibrous plants, the use of pestles and mortars (which introduce large quantities of stone-dust to the food), and/or the use of teeth as a third hand. The two major conclusions of this study are: 1) The transition from hunting and gathering to a food-producing economy in the Levant did not promote changes in dental health, as previously believed. This generally indicates that the Natufians and Neolithic people of the Levant may have differed in their ecosystem management (i.e., gathering vs. growing grains), but not in the type of food consumed. 2) Changes in food-preparation techniques and nondietary usage of the teeth explain much of the variation in tooth condition in populations before and after the agricultural revolution.


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