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Dental Wear and Early Childhood Diet Among Foragers in Southern Africa Open Access


Other title
early childhood diet
dental wear
deciduous teeth
southern Africa
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Paul, Julilla
Supervisor and department
Harrington, Lesley (Anthropology)
Examining committee member and department
Ives, Jack (Anthropology)
Garvie-Lok, Sandra (Anthropology)
Department of Anthropology

Date accepted
Graduation date
2016-06:Fall 2016
Master of Arts
Degree level
Weaning and early childhood diet offer insight into resource availability and resource choice as well as cultural prescriptions of agency, normalcy, and health in early life. Weaning practices are the result of the interaction between biological, ecological, and cultural factors. When weaning is initiated, what foods are chosen for supplementation, how these foods are processed and who chooses the components of diet in early life inform on the biological, ecological, and cultural realities of groups in the past in turn. This thesis employs dental wear data to examine early childhood diet among foragers in southern Africa. Variation in dental wear has two primary determinants: the length of time teeth have been in occlusion (dental age) and the relative abrasiveness of the diet. The former is easily captured in young juveniles due to the accuracy of dental age estimates at this stage of life. The latter may be examined by variables influencing food choice and preparation. Until recently, methods of examining dental wear in deciduous teeth relied on standards borrowed from studies of wear on permanent teeth. These fail to accurately characterize wear. However, new methods of measuring deciduous dental wear quantitatively warrant an exploration of what kind of data can be drawn using this approach. Just as deciduous dental wear is understudied in the literature, so is weaning and early childhood diet among archaeologically-known foragers. This study analyzes wear in a sample of 47 juvenile foragers drawn from collections across South Africa. Individuals come from two distinct ecological regions, the Cape and the Karoo, within the Holocene (10 000 BP - present). Dental wear in the sample was expected to vary based on ecological differences between the Cape and Karoo, temporal differences due to the introduction of pastoralism to the region, and the length of time teeth had been in occlusion (dental age). Of the three variables, only dental age is significantly correlated with dental wear. The apparent uniformity in early childhood diet, implied by the dental wear data presented in this study, emphasizes the need for further research. Currently, there is not enough comparative data on deciduous dental wear to establish a proper range of variation. Comparable studies will allow for cross-cultural comparison to identify dietary factors influencing dental wear during childhood. A lack of regional and temporal patterning in dental wear, and by implication diet, in this sample suggests unexpected homogeneity in this region. However, data on early childhood diet is not by itself sufficient to define cultural continuity across space and time. Future studies should interrogate broader cultural similarities and distinctions between Cape and Karoo foragers in Holocene southern Africa.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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