Exploring Social Inequality at Petra through Dental Pathology
Lieurance, Alysha; Perry, Megan
Dental pathologies such as linear enamel hypoplasias (LEHs), periapical lesions (abscesses), dental calculus and caries, and ante-mortem tooth loss (AMTL) can indicate physiological stress during childhood development as well as reflect biocultural markers of nutrition and oral infection. Combined, they provide a powerful indicator of differential access to resources and dietary variation. This research explores the frequencies of these pathologies in two samples from the ancient Nabataean capital city of Petra to illuminate their relationship to social stratification. The mortuary repertoire of Petra includes ornate monumental façade tombs surrounding the city center in addition to less elaborate shaft chamber tombs. Previous archaeological research explains these tomb variants as reflecting family groups of higher and lower social status, respectively. Statistical analysis of dental pathology frequencies in 696 teeth from the non-elite tombs, 234 teeth from the elite façade tombs, and 132 teeth from a contemporary non-urban site identified statistically higher frequencies of dental calculus (χ2=29.750, p<0.0001), LEHs (χ2=54.855, p<0.0001) and AMTL (χ2=24.57, p<0.001) in the elite façade tombs, and no differences in dental caries or abscesses. The higher frequency of LEHs suggests that the elite individuals more often experienced stress during childhood development. However, in reality more observations of LEHs point to a higher frequency of childhood stress survival. Unfortunately the limited subadult remains from both contexts hinders understanding the relationship between LEH frequencies and childhood morbidity and mortality.