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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2010 Sep;143(1):75-91. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21296.

The usefulness of caries frequency, depth, and location in determining cariogenicity and past subsistence: a test on early and later agriculturalists from the Peruvian coast.

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Laboratório de Antropologia Biológica, Depto. Genética e Biologia Evolutiva, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo, Rua do Matão 277, 05508-900 São Paulo, Brazil.


Dental markers have been used to unravel particularities of paleodiet, subsistence, social structure, and health. This article aims to compare oral pathology among four pre-Columbian groups with different degrees of agricultural and socio-cultural development but comparable ecological conditions who lived on the coastal desert of Peru. Three of these groups are assigned to distinct phases of the Formative Period (2500-1 BC), a time critical for our understanding of the development of agriculture and social complexity. The fourth group corresponds to the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1470 AD), when agriculture had its apogee and society was highly stratified. In this study we test whether there is an increase (1) in the frequency of carious lesions and (2) in caries depth, and (3) if there is a shift from occlusal to extra-occlusal caries locations with the development of agriculture. Therefore, we analyze the frequencies of carious lesions and antemortem tooth loss (AMTL), the caries distributions by age, sex, and type of tooth, as well as the tissues affected by, and the location of the carious lesions. Since there are no significant differences in the frequencies of carious lesions and AMTL between the groups, we reject hypothesis 1. In contrast, caries depth does increase, and caries location changes from occlusal to extra-occlusal sites with agricultural development. However, we can only corroborate hypothesis 2 and 3 when taking into consideration dental wear. Thus, we recommend that caries depth and locations should be used with evaluations of dental wear to reconstruct subsistence in ancient populations.

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