Hunter-gatherer variability: Dental wear in South Australia

Judith Littleton, Rachel Scott, Gina McFarlane, Keryn Walshe

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    Often it is assumed that hunter-gatherer dentitions are dominated by heavy attrition. Recent analyses, however, have shown unexpected variability in the pattern of wear between groups. It had been previously noted that wear differed between neighboring groups on the Murray River, Australia. This analysis extends that geographic scope as well as focusing on wear across the dentition, including the premolars. The samples came from coastal and riverine regions of southern Australia. The analysis used records from the Yorke Peninsula, Adelaide Plains (Gillman site), and Euston regions. These were compared with previously published work from the Adelaide Plains and four locations on the Murray River. The results confirm the overall severity of wear but reveal systematic differences between the samples in terms of the pattern of wear. Heavy wear on the incisors and canines is observed among males from the Euston, Kaurna, Middle A, Murray Mouth, and Yorke Peninsula samples but with marked intra-individual variability. Extensive premolar wear is noted among females from Kaurna and Middle B samples as well as among males and females from Euston. It is argued that these patterns relate to gendered non-masticatory use of teeth and reliance upon bulrush (Typha spp.) and related species for both food and fiber among some groups. We argue that analyzing the degree of variability within samples and across all teeth provides a more nuanced understanding of dental wear among hunter-gatherers. Am J Phys Anthropol 152:273-286, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)273-286
    Number of pages14
    JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013


    • Australian Aborigines
    • dental attrition
    • diet
    • teeth as tools


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