It is accepted that linear enamel hypoplasias (LEHs), a specific type of enamel thickness deficiency, are related to periodic physiological disruptions to enamel matrix secretion during times that teeth are developing. Thus, LEHs are treated as general indicators of metabolic stress. Because the disruptions that cause LEHs affect only the portion of the crown that is in the process of forming, determining their locations allows researchers to reconstruct chronologies of stressful events. It is widely held that the many of the commonly used macroscopic methods for estimating the timing of LEHs are imprecise and do not conform to our current understanding of the process of enamel formation. The goal of the present study is to compare estimated ages of LEH formation produced by two of the most commonly used macroscopic methods to those derived from data in recent histological studies that include more precise information about the timing of crown formation across diverse human populations. These approaches are compared in two ways: 1) by creating a theoretical model using simulated LEHs and 2) empirically, by analyzing data collected on a sample of ancient Nubians from Semna South (present-day Sudan). Results indicate that the approach derived from histological studies provides significantly higher age estimates than the commonly used methods and this difference is particularly marked in early forming LEHs. The magnitude of this difference is large enough to produce divergent interpretation of bioarchaeological datasets and suggests that reevaluation of the methods used to estimate ages of LEH formation may be justified.
- Dental development
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