• attrition;
  • Cienega;
  • La Playa;
  • San Pedro;
  • Sonoran Desert


Crown dimensions and occlusal surface wear rate and wear plane were evaluated using paired first and second mandibular molars from a sample of 84 Early Agricultural period (1600 B.C.–A.D. 200) skeletons from northwest Mexico. Although this period represents a major shift in subsistence strategies in the Sonoran Desert, from food-foraging to agriculture, archaeological and dental pathology studies have identified this period as one of relative dietary stability. It was therefore predicted that very little variation in occlusal wear would have occurred between the early phase (San Pedro: 1600–800 B.C.) and late phase (Cienega: 800 B.C.–A.D. 200). Comparison of crown diameters identified some phenotypic differences between sexes but not between archaeological phases. Molar occlusal surfaces were then divided into four quadrants, and wear scores recorded for each quadrant. Principle axis analysis was performed between total wear scores of paired, adjacent first and second mandibular molars to assess rate and occlusal wear plane over time. The analysis demonstrated that both wear rate and wear plane increased from the early to the late phase of the Early Agricultural period. These results indicate that although diet may have indeed remained stable during this period in the Sonoran Desert increases in the rate of wear and wear plane may reflect changes in food-processing techniques. It is suggested that more intensive processing of agricultural products during the Cienega phase simultaneously softened the diet to create more tooth-contact wear and introduced more grit to cause faster and more angled wear on the molar occlusal surfaces. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2008. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.