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Revisiting dental fluctuating asymmetry in neandertals and modern humans



Previous studies have suggested that Neandertals experienced greater physiological stress and/or were less capable of mitigating stress than most prehistoric modern human populations. The current study compares estimates of dental fluctuating asymmetry (DFA) for prehistoric Inupiat from Point Hope Alaska, the Late Archaic, and Protohistoric periods from Ohio and West Virginia, and a modern sample from Ohio to Neandertals from Europe and Southwest Asia. DFA results from developmental perturbation during crown formation and is thus an indicator of developmental stress, which previous studies have found to be higher in Neandertals than in several modern human populations. Here, we use recent methodological improvements in the analysis of fluctuating asymmetry suggested by Palmer and Strobeck (Annu Rev Ecol Syst 17 (1986) 391–421, Developmental instability: causes and consequences (2003a) v.1–v.36, Developmental instability: causes and consequences (2003b) 279–319) and compare the fit of Neandertal DFA Index values with those of modern humans. DFA estimates for each of the modern population samples exceeded measurement error, with the Inupiat exhibiting the highest levels of DFA for most tooth positions. All significant Neandertal z-scores were positive, exceeding the estimates for each of the modern prehistoric groups. Neandertals exhibited the fewest significant differences from the Inupiat (9.2% of values are significant at P < 0.05), while for the other modern prehistoric groups more than 10% of the Neandertal z-scores are significant at P < 0.05, more than 90% of these significant scores at P < 0.01. These results suggest that the Inupiat experienced greater developmental stress than the other prehistoric population samples, and that Neandertals were under greater developmental stress than all other prehistoric modern human samples. Am J Phys Anthropol 149:193–204, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.