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Fruits of Their Labour: Urbanisation, Orchard Crops, and Dental Health in Early Bronze Age Jordan



The analysis of dental remains, which outlast most other tissues in the human body, provides insight into past diet, activity patterns and ancestry. The remains from Bab edh-Dhra' represent the only skeletal sample available to assess the impact of agricultural intensification in the Early Bronze Age of the southern Levant (ca. 3500–2000 bce). This era ushered in a period of ‘urbanisation’, evidenced by fortified towns, planned roadways, developments in irrigation and growing population density. During this time, the cultivation, trade and consumption of orchard taxa (such as figs, grapes and olives) increased. This paper examines changes in the teeth associated with agricultural intensification involving orchard crops as well as grains. Dental caries, ante mortem tooth loss and dental wear are examined for Early Bronze IA (EBIA; 3500–3300 bce) and Early Bronze II–III (EBII–III; 3100–2300 bce) teeth from the site of Bab edh-Dhra', located in modern-day Jordan. Due to the commingling, general tooth groups (e.g. molars) and specific tooth types (e.g. lower left canine) were used to compare periods. Although age and sex could not be identified for every tooth, analyses of crania and os coxae showed no significant difference in demographic profiles of EBIA and EBII–III. No statistically significant increase was found over time in dental caries frequency; however, teeth for which the cause of pulp exposure could be determined suggested that caries increasingly led to exfoliation. Indeed, ante mortem tooth loss rose significantly with time, whereas dental wear decreased. In general, changes in oral health were consistent with an archaeological record of greater consumption of softer, stickier foods, such as fruits. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.