Activity-induced patterns of dental abrasion in prehistoric Pakistan: evidence from Mehrgarh and Harappa

Am J Phys Anthropol. 1988 Jul;76(3):377-98. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.1330760310.


A detailed investigation of worn teeth should reveal a record of past activity patterns including information regarding diet, food preparation methods, and craft or occupational activities. Anthropological studies of the extensive dental samples from Neolithic (MR 3) and Chalcolithic (MR 2) levels at Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, and Bronze Age Harappa, Punjab, yielded several interesting examples of unusual dental abrasion. This paper provides macro- and microscopic (scanning electron microscope) descriptions of three types of activity-induced dental abrasion: 1) interproximal tooth grooving and interproximal abrasion patches, 2) facial abrasion of maxillary anterior teeth, and 3) lingual abrasion of maxillary incisors in association with rounded wear of lower incisors. The gross size and shape of abrasion features, the orientation of microscopic wear striae, and ethnographic parallels are employed in inferring causal factors involved in their formation. Behavioral activities and dietary explanations possibly associated with each type of dental wear are considered and their implications for reconstructing prehistoric activity patterns discussed. The need for extensive ethno-anthropology research into variations of tooth use among living people with different diets, subsistence bases, and craft specializations is essential to further progress in this field.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Pakistan
  • Paleopathology*
  • Tooth Abrasion / history*
  • Tooth Abrasion / pathology