Small tooth sizes in a nineteenth century South Carolina plantation slave series



Sub-Saharan African (and derived) populations typically exhibit larger mean tooth crown diameters than whites in spite of considerable population variability. We report on a 19th century series of American black slaves from a single cemetery near Charleston, South Carolina, that possessed notably smaller crown sizes. Analysis identifies a characteristic set of differences compared to caucasians, including retention of large maxillary lateral incisors and disproportinately large premolars and molars. Regression of principal components scores (derived from the mesiodistal diameters) on the sum of all diameters (used here as a measure of overall tooth mass) confirms a basic ethnic difference between black and white odontometrics: significantly more of the tooth mass is apportioned to the cheek teeth (premolars, molars) in blacks than whites. The difference (expressed as residuals from linear regression on tooth mass) holds for the several groups assessed here despite considerable intergroup variability in tooth sizes. Potential explanations for the notably small diameters of this plantation series are speculative, but may involve kin-based divergences and/or reflect the natural intergroup differences extant in the African slave sources.