Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

William M. Bass

Committee Members

Richard Jantz, Charles Faulkner, Richard Jendrucko


The purpose of this study is to identify subsistence associated differences in caries, periodontal disease and attrition between two aboroginal skeletal samples from the Tennessee Valley area. The hunter/gather sample employed in this study dates from the Archaic period (6000-500 B.C.) and is composed of individuals from the Eva(6BN12), Cherry (84BN74) and Anderson (40WM9) sites. The Mississippian Dallas focus (1300-1500 A.D.) site of Toqua (40MR6) practiced maize agriculture.

Contrasts in caries frequency, location on the tooth, and distribution along the tooth row were readily apparent. Cervical caries in the posterior tooth row characterized the Archaic sample. The pattern is attributed to the combined effects of food impaction and attrition exposing the vulnerable cervix to bacterially produced demineralyzed acids. The Mississippian sample is characterized not only by a greater caries frequency, but a wide range of locations on the tooth and in the tooth row. Attrition rates differ dramatically between the two samples. This is attributed to the difference in the amount of food processing undertaken between the two subsistence systems. Contrasting anterior to posterior wear gradients were not identified between the Archaic and Mississippian samples. It was hypothesized that in a varied physical environment, such as that inhabited by the Archaic sample, the selective pressure was to use the anterior teeth as a tool. Anterior tooth wear forms indicative of tooth use, differentiated the two samples. A unique wear form in the Mississippian sample was identified.

Periodontal disease involvement between the two subsistence systems showed patterned differences. Bone loss and calculus accumulation are progressive in the Mississippian sample. The accumulation of oral debris concomitant with reduced rate of bone loss is characteristic of the Archaic sample. The about-face is attributed to the mediating influence of attrition in eliminating the sites of food impaction.

Antemortem tooth loss, the ultimate consequence of each of the above mentioned processes, is the significant difference between the loss in the molars only. This higher rate of molar loss in the Mississippian sample is attributed to the combined effects of caries and periodontal disease.

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