Missing defects? A comparison of microscopic and macroscopic approaches to identifying linear enamel hypoplasia


  • Brenna R. Hassett

    Corresponding author
    1. Palaeontology, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, University College London, London, UK
    • Correspondence to: Brenna Hassett, Palaeontology, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD. E-mail: b.hassett@nhm.ac.uk

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Linear enamel hypoplasia (LEH), the presence of linear defects of dental enamel formed during periods of growth disruption, is frequently analyzed in physical anthropology as evidence for childhood health in the past. However, a wide variety of methods for identifying and interpreting these defects in archaeological remains exists, preventing easy cross-comparison of results from disparate studies. This article compares a standard approach to identifying LEH using the naked eye to the evidence of growth disruption observed microscopically from the enamel surface. This comparison demonstrates that what is interpreted as evidence of growth disruption microscopically is not uniformly identified with the naked eye, and provides a reference for the level of consistency between the number and timing of defects identified using microscopic versus macroscopic approaches. This is done for different tooth types using a large sample of unworn permanent teeth drawn from several post-medieval London burial assemblages. The resulting schematic diagrams showing where macroscopic methods achieve more or less similar results to microscopic methods are presented here and clearly demonstrate that “naked-eye” methods of identifying growth disruptions do not identify LEH as often as microscopic methods in areas where perikymata are more densely packed. Am J Phys Anthropol 153:463–472, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.