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Journal Article

Functional relationship between dental macrowear and diet in Late Pleistocene and recent modern human populations


Benazzi,  Stefano       
Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Fiorenza, L., Benazzi, S., Oxilia, G., & Kullmer, O. (2018). Functional relationship between dental macrowear and diet in Late Pleistocene and recent modern human populations. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 28(2), 153-161. doi:10.1002/oa.2642.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0001-3E21-5
Many aspects of diet and behaviour can be gleaned from dental wear, including environmental conditions, food-fracture properties, food processing techniques, and cultural habits. Specifically, the angulation (flat vs. steep) of molar wear has been used as an indicator of food toughness and has also been implicated in the use of grinding stones and pottery in food processing. In this work, we focus on the sequential phases of the power stroke of mastication in a functional way, measuring the inclination of molar wear facets through the occlusal fingerprint analysis method. Specifically, we have calculated the angulation of wear facets in upper and lower molars of Palaeolithic humans, extant hunter-gatherers, and proto-farmers to discern differences between groups with different diets. Contrary to previous analyses, our study shows that the molars of Late Pleistocene specimens are characterized by significantly steeper angles than those of modern hunter-gatherers. The flat molar wear found in the latter group could be related to the excessive mixture of exogenous materials accidentally introduced into their foods, as indicated by ethnographic evidence. On the contrary, the steep wear angles characterizing the Palaeolithic group are probably associated with the consumption of a less abrasive diet, which could be ultimately due to food preparation techniques that incorporated less dust and grit into their diets.