Dental morphological analysis of Holocene Iberian populations.

The enamel-dentine junction as an alternative to genetic proxies.

The adoption of agriculture and pastoralist lifestyle is one of the most important events in human evolution, resulting in significant biological, health and cultural changes. This transition started in the Iberian Peninsula around 5,500 cal BC, followed by several cultural and technological shifts during the next several millennia. The population dynamics that followed this transition and the cultural changes associated to them in the Iberian Peninsula has been long debated as it established the basis for the structure of our society. Particularly in the northeast (NE) of IP, the Middle Neolithic (ca 4,200 – 3,600 cal BC) was characterized by a noticeable regionalization, evident in the variety of funerary practices, together with the presence of a wide exchange networks established between groups in the western Mediterranean. Two  main funerary practices were found in the area: the “Sepulcres de Fossa”, or pit burials, practiced at the Pre-coastal Catalan areas, and the cists, or burials in stone boxes, practiced at inland and mountain areas (pre-Pyrenees area), both of them with individual inhumations. However, by the Late Neolithic – Chalcolithic period (ca 3,600 – 2,300 cal BC), changes in funerary practices occurred in this area, to collective burials mostly in caves, as well as in the settlement and subsistence patterns and cultural material.

The objective of the present project is to characterize the changes in dental traits of Neolithic to Bronze Age Iberian populations and the factors influencing them to elucidate the relationship among the new lifestyle and anatomical traits.

Dental morphology has traditionally been used to investigate biological affinities among past populations. Geometric Morphometric (GM) and microtomography (μCT) methods applied to dental inner tissues studies, such as the enamel-dentine junction (EDJ), have been generally employed in primates and hominin taxa. These methods have proved to be useful in the study of dental traits morphology related with phylogenetical signals and adaptive dietary traits. However, these techniques have not been applied to the study of morphological dental differences in any Holocene archaeological human remains. In this project, these methods will be employed in these Holocene archaeological human populations in the study of dental trait changes through two thousands year transect. More specifically, these approaches are going to be used to understand the biological affinities between past human populations that lived in the North-East of Iberian Peninsula from Middle Neolithic to Bronze Ages times.

The combined use of multiple methodologies, such as GM and μCT approaches for the study of dental traits,  will allow us to 1) evaluate accurately the morphological changes in teeth related with genetic and cultural transitions of past populations in the North-East of Iberian Peninsula from Middle Neolithic to Bronze Age, 2) provide an in-depth understanding of these transitions from a dental morphology perspective, and 3) contribute to the knowledge of this Prehistoric period of a particular European area with a novel and unstudied valuable sample with the application of a new methodology.

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