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Keywords:

  • bioarchaeology;
  • Irene Mound;
  • physiological stress;
  • enamel defects

Abstract

Linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH), a type of enamel defect reflecting nonspecific physiological stress, has traditionally been used by bioarchaeologists to assess human health. Initially, measurements of defect width were used to estimate the duration of stress episodes. More recently, methods of counting within-defect perikymata (enamel growth increments) were developed to more accurately assess duration. Because perikymata are often not continuously visible within defects, while widths can usually be measured, the primary purpose of this article was to determine if, under restrictive conditions, the widths of LEH defects might be used as relative indicators of stress episode duration. Using a set of dental replicas from the prehistoric Irene Mound (1150–1400 A.D.), this study also investigated potential sources of variation in defect widths and how often defect widths could be measured and within-defect perikymata counted. Of 120 defects, only 47 contained both measurable defect widths and total within-defect perikymata, while 79 had measurable defect widths. Regression analysis revealed that, for these 47 defects, defect widths were more strongly related to the total number of within-defect perikymata than they were to crown region or tooth type. Although wide prediction intervals indicated that a defect's width could not be used to predict the number of within-defect perikymata for an individual, narrower confidence intervals associated with hypothetical mean population widths suggested that mean defect widths might be used to rank populations in terms of relative average stress episode duration. Am J Phys Anthropol 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.