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Keywords:

  • enamel thickness;
  • dental wear;
  • Neolithic;
  • Middle Age;
  • microtomography

ABSTRACT

Enamel thickness has been linked to functional aspects of masticatory biomechanics and has been demonstrated to be an evolutionary plastic trait, selectively responsive to dietary changes, wear and tooth fracture. European Late Paleolithic and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers mainly show a flat wear pattern, while oblique molar wear has been reported as characteristic of Neolithic agriculturalists. We investigate the relationships between enamel thickness distribution and molar wear pattern in two Neolithic and medieval populations. Under the assumption that dietary and/or non-dietary constraints result in directional selective pressure leading to variations in enamel thickness, we test the hypothesis that these two populations will exhibit significant differences in wear and enamel thickness patterns. Occlusal wear patterns were scored in upper permanent second molars (UM2) of 64 Neolithic and 311 medieval subadult and adult individuals. Enamel thickness was evaluated by microtomography in subsamples of 17 Neolithic and 25 medieval individuals. Eight variables describing enamel thickness were assessed. The results show that oblique molar wear is dominant in the Neolithic sample (87%), while oblique wear affects only a minority (42%) of the medieval sample. Moreover, in the Neolithic molars, where buccolingually directed oblique wear is dominant and greatest enamel lost occurs in the distolingual quadrant, thickest enamel is found where occlusal stresses are the most important—on the distolingual cusp. These results reveal a correlation between molar wear pattern and enamel thickness that has been associated to dietary changes. In particular, relatively thicker molar enamel may have evolved as a plastic response to resist wear. Am J Phys Anthropol 155:162–172, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.