Dental Health and Diet of Two Prehistoric Populations from Chile's Semiarid North

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Maria Araya Rosado


This investigation examines dental health and diet of two prehistoric populations from Chile's semiarid north. Trace element and dental paleopathological analyses  have been conducted on skeletal remains of hunter-gatherers of the Archaic period (n=99, ca. 1,800 BC) and agriculturalists of the Diaguita period (n=82, 1,000-1,500 AD). Archaeological and historical evidence indicates that the Diaguita diet primarily incorporated cultivated and wild plants, but also included pastoralism and marine resources. By contrast, the subsistence of Archaic peoples was primarily based on marine resources. Concentration values of the elements strontium and barium (mean log ratio values for Archaic = -0.7985, n=38; for Diaguita = -0.5475, n=53) support the archaeological evidence for subsistence mode, and thus for diet, of both populations. These concentrations fall within the ranges determined for various archaeological New World populations with similar subsistence and dietary patterns. Based on the differences in subsistence and diet, the variations in dental health between the two populations were investigated. The analysis to date has revealed that both populations suffered from infectious (antemortem tooth loss, abscesses, caries, alveolar recession), degenerative (calculus deposition), and developmental (enamel hypoplasia) dental pathologies. The differences in frequencies of some of the infection processes are statistically significant between the two populations (p,0.05), but overall do not seem to demonstrate, as many other studies have (Larsen, 1984; Schmucker, 1985; Murphy, 1993), as sharp decline in dental health from the hunter-gatherer population.