Relationship between dental development and skeletal growth in modern humans and its implications for interpreting ontogeny in fossil hominins


  • Maja Šešelj

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, New York University, New York, NY 10003
    2. Division of Morphological Sciences and Biostatistics, Department of Community Health, Wright State University, Dayton, OH 45420
    • Division of Morphological Sciences and Biostatistics, Wright State University, 3171 Research Boulevard, Dayton, OH 45420, USA
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Dental development and skeletal growth are central aspects used by anthropologists when investigating the ontogeny of a population or species. The interrelatedness of the two phenomena is often assumed to be high, but the nature of their relationship is obscured by the fact that they are both highly dependent upon chronological age. The exact relationship between the tempo of dental development and skeletal growth is unclear even in modern humans, which limits the ability to extrapolate to archaeological or fossil forms. It is clear that the influence of chronological age on these two aspects of ontogeny must be accounted for before examining their relationship to one another. This study tests whether dental development and skeletal growth are conditionally independent given age using known-age modern human skeletal samples and proportional odds logistic regression. The results suggest that dental development and skeletal growth are moderately correlated and thus not conditionally independent given age. That is, individuals that are dentally advanced relative to their peers also tend to be skeletally advanced. However, this relationship is moderate at best, so dental development does not appear to be a highly reliable proxy for skeletal growth, or vice versa, in modern humans. These findings have implications for the reconstruction of ontogeny and life history of fossil hominin taxa, since the pace of dental development is often used as a life history proxy. Implications of this study suggest that the proposed accelerated dental development in Pleistocene hominins was not necessarily accompanied by faster skeletal growth. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.