Quick Tips: Identifying Dental Diseases – Dental/Enamel Hypoplasia.

In our previous Quick Tip post on identifying dental diseases, we gave a basic overview on the different diseases that are observed. If you haven’t read it, you can find it by clicking here.

Dental hypoplasia is a condition that affects the enamel of a tooth. It is characterised by pits, grooves and transverse lines which are visible on the surface of tooth crowns. The lines, grooves and pits that are observed are defects in the enamels development. These defects occur when the enamel formation, also known as amelogenesis, is disturbed by a temporary stress to the organism which upsets the ameloblastic activity. Factors which can cause such stress and therefore disrupt the amelogenesis include; fever, malnutrition, and hypocalcemia.

Figure 1: An example of linear enamel hypoplasia.

Figure 1: An example of linear enamel hypoplasia.

It has been noted that enamel hypoplasia is more regularly seen on anterior teeth than on molars or premolars, and that the middle and cervical portions of enamel crowns tend to show more defects than the incisal third. This is due to the amelogenesis beginning at the occlusal apex of each tooth crown and proceeding rootward, towards where the crown then meets the root at the cervicoenamel line.

Figure 2: Anatomy of a tooth. Note the top third is known as either the occlusal third if in molars, or the incisal third when the tooth is an incisor or canine.

Figure 2: Anatomy of a tooth. Note the top third is known as either the occlusal third if in molars, or the incisal third when the tooth is an incisor or canine.

By studying these incidents of enamel hypoplasia within a population sample, we can be provided with valuable information regarding patterns of dietary stress and disease that may have occurred within the community.

References:

Lukacs, J.R. 1989. Dental paleopathology: methods for reconstructing dietary patterns. In M.Y. Iscan and K.A.R. Kennedy (eds), Reconstruction of life from the skeleton. New York, Alan Liss, pp. 261-86.

Ubelaker, D.H. 1989. Human Skeletal Remains: Excavation, Analysis, Interpretation (2nd Ed.). Washington, DC: Taraxacum.

White, T.D., Folkens, P.A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Pg 392-398.

This is the second post of the Quick Tips series on identifying dental diseases. The next post in this series will focus on how to identify dental caries and highlight the cause of this dental disease.

To read more Quick Tips in the meantime click here, or to learn about basic fracture types and their characteristics/origins click here!

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3-Million Year Old Fossilised Metacarpals Show Evidence of Tool Use.

A recent study has put forward some important evidence of early human ancestors, in particular Australopithecus africanus, wielding tools in a human like fashion dating around 3 to 2-million years ago.

Figure 1: A recent study has put forward some important evidence of early human ancestors, in particular Australopithecus africanus (pictured), wielding tools in a human like fashion dating around 3 to 2-million years ago.

Figure 1: A recent study has put forward some important evidence of early human ancestors, in particular Australopithecus africanus (pictured), wielding tools in a human like fashion dating around 3 to 2-million years ago . ©Shaen Adey, Gallo Images/Corbis.

The study, led by Matthew Skinner from the University of Kent, compared the internal structures of the hand bones from the Australopithecus africanus and several Pleistocene hominins, which were previously considered to have not engaged in habitual tool use.

Skinner et al, found that they all have a human trabecular (spongy) bone pattern in the metacarpals, and this is consistent with the “forceful opposition of the thumb and fingers typically adopted during tool use”.

Top row: First metacarpals of the  various hominins.  Bottom row: 3-D renderings from the micro-CT scans showing a cross-section of the bone structure inside.

Figure 2: Top row: First metacarpals of the various hominids.
Bottom row: 3-D renderings from the micro-CT scans showing a cross-section of the bone structure inside. ©T.L. Kivell

The evolution of the hand, mainly the development of opposable thumbs, has been hailed as the key to success for early humans. It is thought that without the improvement of our grip and hand posture, tool technology could not have emerged and developed as well as it has.

This piece of research will provide a new discussion into when the first appearance of habitual tool use occurred in prehistory, as this study’s evidence of modern human-like tool use is dated 0.5-million years earlier than the first archaeological evidence of stone tools.

References:

Skinner, M. Stephens, N. Tsegai, Z. Foote, A. Nguyen, N. Gross, T. Pahr, D. Hublin, J. Kivell, T. 2015. Human-like hand use in Australopithecus africanusScience. 347, 6220. p395-399.
You can view this paper by clicking here.

 

If you’re a student – check out our ‘Quick Tips’ posts where we breakdown topics of AAFS into bite-sized chunks. We’re currently covering how to age and how to estimate the biological sex of skeletal remains, and also how to identify a variety of fracture types

Quick Tips: How To Estimate The Biological Sex Of A Human Skeleton – The Basics.

Within anthropological and archaeological sciences, ‘sex’ refers to the biological sex of an individual, based on the chromosomal difference of XX being female, and XY being male. Whereas ‘gender’ refers to the socio-cultural differences placed on the biological differences. In recent times, the words ‘gender’ and sex’ have been used incorrectly as interchangeable words within this discipline.

Therefore, it is important to remember that the word ‘gender’ refers an aspect of a person’s social identity, whereas ‘sex’ refers to the person’s biological identity.

Sexual dimorphism as seen in the human skeleton is determined by the hormones that are produced by the body. There are numerous markers on a human skeleton which can provide archaeologists and anthropologists with an estimate sex of the deceased. The areas of the skeletal remains that are studied are the:

 If the skeletal marker listed above is a link, it means that I have already covered it in an individual blog post and can be found by following the link.

The two most commonly used skeletal markers that are observed by osteologists are the skull and pelvic bone, as these show the most extreme differences.

It is generally noted that female skeleton elements are characterized by being smaller in size and lighter in construction, whereas males have larger, robust elements. Due to normal individual variation, there will always be smaller, dainty males and larger, robust females. Therefore, it is always important to observe a variety of skeletal markers to come to an accurate determination.

It should be noted that it is a lot harder to reliably deduce a juvenile/sub-adult’s sex, as many of the differences in skeletal markers only become visible after maturation, when the skeletal changes occur due to puberty. Therefore, use of DNA has been widely used to sex sub-adult skeletal remains as DNA analysis can now detect and identify X and Y chromosome-specific sequences.

References:

Buikstra, J.E., Ubelaker, D.H. 1994. Standards for Data Collection From Human Skeletal Remains. Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Archaeological Survey Report Number 44.

Ubelaker, D.H. 1989. Human Skeletal Remains: Excavation, Analysis, Interpretation (2nd Ed.). Washington, DC: Taraxacum.

White, T.D., Folkens, P.A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Pg 360-385.

This is the first of a Quick Tips series on sex determination of skeletal remains. The next post in this series will focus on the use of the skull to determine biological sex. To read more Quick Tips in the mean time, click here

 

Quick Tips: How To Estimate The Chronological Age Of A Human Skeleton – The Basics.

Estimation of age-at-death involves observing morphological features in the skeletal remains, comparing the information with changes recorded for recent populations of known age, and then estimating any sources of variability likely to exist between the prehistoric and the recent population furnishing the documented data. This third step is seldom recognized or discussed in osteological studies, but it represents a significant element. – Ubelaker, D. 1989.

There are numerous markers on a human skeleton which can provide archaeologists and anthropologists with an estimate age of the deceased. The areas of the skeletal remains that are studied are:

If the skeletal marker listed above is a link, it means that I have already covered it in an individual blog post and can be found by following the link.

We can age skeletal remains to a rough estimate, as over a lifetime a human skeleton undergoes sequential chronological changes. Teeth appear and bone epiphyseal form and fuse during childhood and adolescence, with some bone fusing, metamorphose and degeneration carrying on after the age of twenty. Buikstra and Ubelaker, 1994, developed seven age categories that human osteological remains are separated into. The seven age classes are; fetus (before birth), infant (0-3 years), child (3-12 years), adolescent (12-20 years), young adult (20-35 years), middle adult (35-50 years), and old adult (50+ years).

When it comes to ageing skeletal remains, there are numerous problems. This is because individuals of the same chronological age can show difference degrees of development. Therefore, this causes archaeologists and anthropologists to obtain an accurate age estimate, which may not be precise.

It should be noted that it is a lot easier to deduce a juvenile/sub-adult’s age, as the ends of the limb bones form and fuse at known ages and the ages of which tooth formation and eruption occur are very well documented, although somewhat variable. After maturity there is little continuing skeletal change to observe, this causes adult ageing to become more difficult.

References:

Buikstra, J.E., Ubelaker, D.H. 1994. Standards for Data Collection From Human Skeletal Remains. Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Archaeological Survey Report Number 44.

Ubelaker, D.H. 1989. Human Skeletal Remains: Excavation, Analysis, Interpretation (2nd Ed.). Washington, DC: Taraxacum.

White, T.D., Folkens, P.A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Pg 360-385.

This is the first of a Quick Tips series on ageing skeletal remains, the next in this series will focus on the epiphyseal closure method of ageing sub-adults. To read more Quick Tips in the mean time, click here

To learn about basic fracture types and their characteristics/origins click here!

Quick Tips: How can you tell if a skeletal fracture is ante, peri or post-mortem?

There is a relatively easy way to see whether a fracture to a skeleton is ante, peri or even post mortem. It is essential to detail and deduce which category a fracture falls into, as this is very important to see whether the fracture had played a part in the person’s death.

To first classify a fracture, we need to understand what the different categories mean. Some of you will already know these terminology, but here’s a quick reminder;

  • If a fracture is ante-mortem, it means that the fracture was made before death of the persons.
  • With peri-mortem fractures, it means that the fracture was received at or near the time of death of the persons – so could have been the fatal strike.
  • Post-mortem fractures are fractures that have been received after death, so during the time from death to the time of recovery. These fractures are usually from excavation processes, dismemberment, or even natural processes (soil, animal and plant activity).

You will be able to determine if a bone fracture was ante-mortem due to there being signs of healing which is shown by cell regrowth and repair.

With peri-mortem fractures, the person died before the healing started to take place, but the fractures will still contain the biomechanics that are present in ante-mortem fractures.

Post-mortem breaks tend to shatter compared to peri-mortem breaks which splinter, this is because bones which are in the post-mortem stage tend to be dry and rather brittle. Another big indicator of a fracture being post-mortem is the difference in colour.

The ‘Quick Tip’ that my applied anthropology lecturer taught me on how to easily distinguish between peri-mortem and post-mortem is to look at the fracture and decide; is it a clean break, as if you were breaking in half a bar of chocolate? If it is, then the fracture is most likely to be a peri-mortem fracture. If the break looks crumbly, like breaking a biscuit in half, it’s post-mortem fracture. Obviously this tip is not the most scientific, but it’s an easy way to begin your distinguishing process.

Image

Skull with signs of post-mortem fractures. This photo is from a practical lab session.

If you look at the photo above it illustrates a post-mortem fracture. You can determine this easily due to the colour difference on the edge of the fracture, where it is a much lighter colour compared to the rest of the skull and the crumbly nature of the cut.

References:

Most of this is my own knowledge that I learnt during my degree in my anthropology lectures/lab practical sessions. But if you’re looking for a published journal check the one below. It is very informative and easy to understand if you’re a beginner in the world of anthropology/archaeology! It also highlights some problems that can arise when distinguishing trauma, it’s really interesting!

Smith, A.C. 2010. Distinguishing Between Antemortem, Perimortem, and Postmortem Trauma. Academia.edu. Available from here in .pdf form!

Read more anthropology/archaeology quick tips here!