Facet microwear texture and human childhood paleo-dietary reconstruction

Methodological implications of intra- and inter-facet microwear texture variation for human childhood paleo-dietary reconstruction: Insights from the deciduous molars of extant and medieval children from France is the title of the article co-authored by John Willman (CIAS). 

Willman, in collaboration with researchers from Austria, UK, France and Spain, observed the occlusal dental microwear texture variation on the deciduous molars of children. The work aimed to 1) describe for the first time, using DMTA, intra-facet microwear variation of facet 9 (the most commonly analyzed phase II grinding facet) of deciduous maxillary second molars in a sample of extant and Early-Medieval children; 2) examine inter-facet variation between two commonly grouped phase II facets (9 and 11) on the same tooth; and 3) compare microwear variation between smaller and larger wear facets.

The article was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (vol 31, June 2020) and is available HERE.



The present study concerns occlusal dental microwear texture variation on the deciduous molars of children. A description and evaluation of microwear texture variation within facet 9 and a comparison of microwear textures between grinding facets 9 and 11 are presented. The relationship between wear facet surface area and intra-facet microwear texture variability is evaluated. The sample is composed of naturally-exfoliated, taphonomy-free deciduous second molars from twelve extant children and four archaeologically-derived medieval children (for a total of 51 surface measurements). Dental microwear texture analysis (DMTA) was performed using a confocal microscope and scale-sensitive fractal analysis (SSFA) at three standardized locations on facet 9, and one location on facet 11. Facet shape was visually assessed and scored using a headset magnifier (3×) and composite images (20× confocal microscopy). Individuals were assigned to two groups based on a qualitative assessment of facet surface area. Microwear texture variability within facet 9 was high relative to the variability of microwear textures between individuals. No significant inter-facet variation between facets 9 and 11 was detected. No clear differences in microwear and variabilities within facet 9 were found between individuals assigned to small and large facet groups. Our study shows the existence of important intra-facet microwear variation in a sample of children. Intra-facet microwear variation can affect the ability of DMTA to distinguish between diets in contexts with small sample sizes and subtle differences in diet – such as those characterizing dietary transitions in children. Results also suggest non-dietary factors may influence microwear formation during dental exfoliation. A better understanding of intra-facet microwear variation, and when and how to account for it, can improve the application of occlusal DMTA in similar contexts.

Facet microwear texture and human childhood paleo-dietary reconstruction

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