Intertooth patterns of hypoplasia expression: implications for childhood health in the classic Maya collapse.
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Enamel hypoplasias, which record interacting stresses of nutrition and illness during the period of tooth formation, are a key tool in the study of childhood health in prehistory. But interpretation of the age of peak morbidity is complicated by differences in susceptibility to stress both between tooth positions and within a single tooth. Here, hypoplasias are used to evaluate the prevailing ecological model for the collapse of Classic Period Lowland Maya civilization, circa AD 900. Hypoplasias were recorded in the full dentition of 160 adult skeletons from six archaeological sites in the Pasion River region of Guatemala. Instead of constructing a composite scale of stress experience, teeth are considered separately by position in the analysis. No statistical differences are found in the proportion of teeth affected by hypoplasia between "Early," Late Classic, and Terminal Classic Periods for anterior teeth considered to be most susceptible to stress, indicating stability in the overall stress loads affecting children of the three chronological periods. However, hypoplasia trends in posterior teeth may imply a change in the ontogenetic-timing of more severe stress episodes during the final occupation and perhaps herald a shift in child-care practices. These results provide little support for the ecological model of collapse but do call to attention the potential of posterior teeth to reveal subtle changes in childhood morbidity when consideredindividually.
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